The Zombie Infiltration (And How To Survive)

Written by Josh Milliken on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

The Zombie Infiltration (And How To Survive)

Josh Milliken

Josh is a grinder from Ohio. He has several Top 8s across various formats to his credit, competed at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, and is the 2013 Pennsylvania state champion.

States is the tournament I look forward to the most each year. It rings in the new Standard format, and brings people out to play who I don’t get to see very often. Win or lose, it is also one of the most fun tournaments because the prize doesn’t make everybody play cutthroat Magic. There will be a lot of rogue brews running the tables, which gives other rogue decks a better chance to shine as well.

It’s become my annual tradition to play in States. The prize may not be much, but it’s about respect.

2006: 4-2-1 with Dragonstorm
2007: 2-4 with G/W Midrange
2008: 3-4 with Jund Rock (Of course I handed my friend a Kithkin deck, and he promptly won the tournament)
2009: 5-3 with Jund

2010: Top 8 in West Virginia, 5-0-2 with UW Control

Every States will have the same theme: Aggro is king. If you can figure out how to beat the aggro decks, then you will do well. This was a hard lesson hard I learned over several years. This tournament was mine to win, but I got greedy against an Elves player and lost because of it.

2011: Top 8 in Pennsylvania, 6-1-1 with Burn

I spotted a hole in the metagame, which was that most decks could not interact with a burn strategy. There were a lot of 1/1 creatures running around, and I could easily punch through them with Hero of Oxid Ridge, Spikeshot Elder and Arc Trail. I did learn you can’t prepare for variance, losing to a player in the first round of the Top 8 whom I crushed in the Swiss.

2012: ???

This year I intend to play in two States tournaments — Pennsylvania and Ohio — to try to have a Top 8 in all three of my surrounding states. (For more information on States tournaments, which are held Oct. 13 and 14, visit Sleeveup for locations and times.)

The Zombie Horde

States has been immediately after rotation the last few years, which doesn’t give people a lot of time to build or tune new decks. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, yes it is. But this also leads to more people just picking up decks from the last Block season and the last Standard season that are still primarily intact.

Not only did Zombies lose almost nothing, it gained quite a few options including the two-drop they have always dreamed of in Lotleth Troll. It also gains uncounterable removal with Abrupt Decay, and the mana to cast it all with Overgrown Tomb. Put together, this will make BG Zombies the most heavily played Zombie deck, otherwise known as Public Enemy No. 1.

Why can’t people just come prepared to beat Zombies? If you come prepared to beat only one deck, then you will lose to the rest of the decks. That’s why control decks have a hard time putting up early results, because the meta is still forming and you can’t be prepared for everything yet.

What makes it even harder this year is there actually are three distinct Zombies decks. And their cards are very unforgiving if you can’t answer them. Here are some sample lists:

Now that we know the best aggro deck, we have to decide whether to play it or it play something that beats it. I don’t like playing with Zombies, so I prepared a Jund Rock deck that should decimate a field of mostly Zombies. Why Jund Rock? To be honest, I love playing Rock-style decks, and they rarely have worse than a 50-50 matchup against any given deck. This year it seems like they gave the B/G/R colors some of the best tools to battle the Zombie menace, which is ironic because they run all those same colors.

Any time you choose the anti-aggro option, your deck and sideboard construction is crucial so you don’t lose to everything else. You will have to make concessions in the maindeck because you will not face Zombies every round. And you will need a wide variety of sideboard cards with broad uses to ensure you have as many decks covered as possible. If there were a few more weeks to prepare with some results from major events, it would be much easier to define what you will need in the sideboard.

But for now we only know that Zombies is good, and we have to guess on the rest. Here’s my current list:

I have a lot of card-advantage engines, and several that keep my opponents from getting extra value out of their creatures. You may notice the use of Garruk Relentless over Garruk, Primal Hunter. The former is more flexible and can just be used to kill a creature. He also is less mana intensive. Vraska the Unseen will rarely make tokens. Most of the time, she will be used to Vindicate things over and over again. Tragic Slip and Sever the Bloodline are a nod to Falkenrath Aristocrat and Lotleth Troll being fairly difficult to kill. There’s only one card in the maindeck that doesn’t act as removal. Thragtusk is such a good threat that I couldn’t keep him out of the deck. Casting him against Zombies generally puts them back a couple turns. In this deck, a couple turns means you can take control of the game.

As far as the sideboard,  I tried to cover all my bases for the decks I expect to see. I expect all flavors of Zombies, Tokens, Delver, Rock, Reanimator and Control to be represented plus some random jank along the way. The common thread is all these decks need creatures to win against me, no matter how unfair they try to play. A big decision I’m unsure of is whether I want Olivia Voldaren or Sever the Bloodline in the maindeck, but I have some time to figure that out.

My sideboard cards are either super flexible or very narrow like Cremate vs. Rakdos Charm. If I draw a sideboard card I don’t want anymore, I can just discard it to Liliana of the Veil. In the case of Sever the Bloodline, I only lose a half a card.

My sideboarding plan against Zombies should stem the beating from their fastest draws until you can start gaining life and take control of the game.

-4 Liliana of the Veil; -2 Vraska the Unseen; -1 Dreadbore

+2 Mutilate; +2 Cremate; +2 Olivia Voldaren; +1 Abrupt Decay

Missing the cut

Mizzium Mortars: I don’t feel like I could hit triple red consistently enough to wrath the board. If you feel otherwise, then this could replace the Mutilates in the sideboard because it’s always at least spot removal.

Bonfire of the Damned: Yes, this card is still playable. But I don’t feel like it’s good enough with Zombies being the primary aggro deck.

Ancient Grudge: This was one of the last cuts from my sideboard, but only because I needed more broad answers. It will probably come back after the meta establishes.

Zealous Conscripts: With all the removal this deck runs, I didn’t feel like stealing one of their permanents for a turn would make any difference. This not being an aggro deck really takes away from his value as well.

Rakdos’s Return: This card is really only good against control decks, and I don’t foresee that many control decks at States.

Slaughter Games: I still would like to put one or two of these in my sideboard, but there’s just not enough room until I see how the format starts to develop.

Deathrite Shaman: I would love to run this guy as graveyard removal, but he’s too fragile with all the removal that will be running around.

Curse of Death’s Hold: I wanted to run two or three of these and just ran out of room. If tokens deck start to rise in popularity then this should make a home in the sideboard.

Speaking of Aggro

(Everybody loves Kithkin, right?)

Thanks for reading,
Josh Milliken

@joshuamilliken on Twitter

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