Thran Utopia #31: The Walking Dead Flare
After a few hypothetical decks centered around Chandra the Firebrand, it is time to unleash a real deck, my second deck with Innistrad cards. It is one of the decks that I sort-of previewed a few weeks ago right after Innistrad came out, albeit a bit different from what I did there. Still, it’s good to see good ideas not going to waste. Welcome to the world of the walking dead… flare.
A Murder of Zombies
As is almost a custom with my decks, the final deck didn’t really look a lot like what I envisioned in the beginning. In fact, this Zombie deck started out as a Murder of Crows-deck! Yes, really. Although it had a Zombie-component in Zombie Infestation, the deck was mainly blue. It was a deck that cared about discard, mostly because of Squee, Goblin Nabob. Squee turns discard into a profit. Another big part of that was Vengeful Pharaoh. While its effect is certainly powerful, the card going to the top of your deck can hurt you when you’re digging for another card. That’s where Murder of Crows and Merfolk Looter come in: they ensure you draw more than one card each turn, which always digs you past that Pharaoh waiting atop your library (and as an added bonus, they dump him right back where he belongs –
the graveyard his tomb).
Ofcourse, Murder of Crows needs dead flesh to start working. That’s where cards like Stitcher’s Apprentice, Viscera Seer, and even Grimgrin come in. The latter two allow you to sacrifice a creature whenever you please, while Stitcher’s Apprentice can get Murder of Crows going even when you don’t have creatures to spare (make a Homunculus, sac a Homunculus).
What was starting to happen was that the deck became more and more black. You see, Murder of Crows is very distracting. It’s mana cost might make you think it is a blue card, when in fact, it is a black card. It cares about creatures dying and it fills up your graveyard? This could very well have been a twisted necromancer of some sort! So while blue had some decent cards to go with that murder (seriously, Murder of Crows is beyond perfect as a card name – look up how a pack of crows is called and you’ll know why), it was black who had the real stuff. Slowly but surely, a lot of graveyard-related cards entered the deck. Recursive creatures (Rotting Rats, Reassembling Skeleton), more graveyard fillers (Zombie Infestation, Viscera Seer, Corpse Connoisseur), and ofcourse gravedigging (pretty much half of the black cards in existence).
Morbid of Crows
I started this deck like I worked on my previous two decks (Lesson Tree: Teh Jab and The Royal Wave), but as to change things up, I will not go into the process very detailed. I’ll just talk about the direction of the deck, and what each group of changes was trying to accomplish. This deck was struggling for its identity all along the way, and to be frankly, I’m still not entirely sure about the deck. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start at the beginning.
After a few go-rounds with a deck full of singletons, it became clear I was once again trying to do way too much. I was trying to mill cards (mostly to find Squee’s and reanimation- and recursion-targets), discard cards (because of Murder of Crows) and sacrifice creatures (again thanks to Murder of Crows). This was simply too much, and I had test games to figure out what I wanted to do about that. Before I made any real cuts, though, I cut a few cards that were underperforming and added either new cards, or second copies of existing ones. This was a way to further test the ideas that worked at first glance. Furthermore, to test the Squee-Infestation interaction, I needed to get them to four copies each ASAP.
The deck was manifesting itself as more of a Zombie Infestation-deck rather than a Murder of Crows-deck. This meant that the sacrifice aspect was something that could go, although it has a reasonable amount of synergy with Zombie tokens.
Some of the cards I added were cards that supported the discard/selfmill-theme. Rotting Rats was a great way to fill my own yard and that of my opponent – twice. Corpse Connoisseur is a graveyard tutor, often finding a Squee, but also the occasional silver bullet Zombie (with Unholy Grotto in play). I also had Cunning Lethemancer, but once I read that it doesn’t trigger for each player at their own upkeep, my interest quickly dwindled.
The deck was turning out – again – to become a great Forbidden Alchemy-deck. You almost always pick either mana or enchantment, since your creatures and instants/sorceries work just as good from the graveyard. While Alchemy was great and all, Deranged Assistant wasn’t. I thought I really needed the mana, but that was hardly true, so it stuck around longer than it should’ve. The deck turned from a Murder of Crows-deck looking for a comfortable idendity into a Zombie Infestation-deck looking for one.
Too much sac(s)
The push from this deck towards filling the graveyard strangely moved the deck away from sacrifice rather than to it. It used to have either 4 Viscera Seer or 4 Carrion Feeder, but one time I just took them all out. I found my desired angle and I wanted to stick to it. In the end, only Grimgrin remained as a card that needs bodies to feed on, but that was fine. Rarely did Grimgrin stay tapped, since Zombie Infestation is very flexible in making tokens EOT, leaving not much of a window for removal. Also, wasting removal on tokens is something most players dislike, to put it mildly.
If the deck was a roulette table, I made bets of confidence on Unburial Rites and Zombie Infestation, two different lines of play for the deck that work without and with eachother. This gives me a good chance to win a game even if a player manages to block one of those two routes. And if they don’t, they’re likely to face both a lot of Zombies and an unpleasant gigantic critter of some sort. Changes of them winning? About as big as the chance of Squee staying dead forever.
Unburial Rites was a pretty convincing reason to add a few white sources. This made Forbidden Alchemy even better: you can keep a land or something else (say, Zombie Infestation), mill a big guy and Rites, and reanimate the guy next turn (you are ofcourse casting Alchemy EOT).
The deck didn’t just play Zombies, it had a reasonable Zombie tribal theme. Unbreathing Horde likes ’em, Lord of the Undead does to, and Unholy Grotto is just as happy to pick those Zombies out of their graves. Sadly, Unbreathing Horde didn’t become as good as I thought it could be. Without a card like Buried Alive (a card which I won’t play in a deck with Squee because it’s just so boring), Zombie Infestation is slower than the Horde would like. More on this card below – it’s the one question mark left unanswered.
The Walking Dead Flare – v5.0
3 Corpse Connoisseur
1 Grave Titan
2 Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
2 Lord of the Undead
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Rotting Rats
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
4 Squee, Goblin Nabob
3 Unbreathing Horde
1 Vengeful Pharaoh
Let’s talk strategy now. The list above is, as is usual with my decks, ready to go to battle. First, let’s discuss the one big uncertainty in this deck, and that is the trio of Unbreathing Hordes. It works so good on paper – dead and milled Zombies still boost it, you get a bonus from Zombie tokens too, and Lord of the Undead makes sure it doesn’t ever die (in will eventually become a 1/1 thanks to the Lord, in which case you still prevent damage but don’t remove a counter since there aren’t any). But in practice, oftentimes the Horde just came down as a 4/4 of 5/5, which isn’t impressive (for a creature without evasion). I’m thinking of expanding the reanimation suite (say, one more Grave Titan and the fourth Rites, maybe leave one Hordes in), but I could very well add some more defense in the form of some Armored Skaabs and/or Vengeful Pharaohs. I’ll leave that to some real games to decide.
Without having played any real games with this deck, I feel that it’s biggest strength is its ability to attack on two fronts: with a slowly growing mass of Zombies (how thematic!) on one end and a big reanimated creature on the other. The trick is to know when to move in on one and leave the other be. Luckily, they are both pretty well-connected. Making Zombies doesn’t cost you mana beyond that two mana up-front payment of Zombie Infestation. After that, you’re able to discard and mill away, because both your reanimators and reanimatees work just as well from the graveyard. The best line of play for this deck, I believe, is turn two Infestation, followed by turn 3 EOT Forbidden Alchemy (preferably dumping Unburial Rites and Random Fatty X in the graveyard), then flashing back Rites on turn 4. Ideally, there are some Squee’s involved there as well.
Zombie Infestation is at its best against control, since it’s cheap and just lies there, making Zombies. It’s a bit worse against creature decks, but still good, since your deck is built on making more and more Zombies over time. Each Squee you draw speeds up the process, and there’s enough digging tools in here to make sure you find him. Another great control beat-em-up is Rotting Rats, which should nab a few cards from their hand (although I might add more discard to support the Rats – maybe a reanimation target?).
Overall I’m curious to try it out. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Zombie deck, and I think I’m going to like this one a lot more than my previous one. Although I didn’t succeed in building that Murder of Crows-deck.
See you next week!