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FNM Hero: Charting a Path Back to Ravnica

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM, Standard

The Zombie apocalypse is upon us.

They’ve been lurking in the depths of the Standard metagame for the last few months, but now they’re sick of scrounging for crumbs and they want their place at the proverbial table. Delver-based decks have been at the top of the food chain since Delver of Secrets was printed but Return to Ravnica (RTR) is bringing about a shift in the meta. Zombies (specifically Green/Black) is getting all the love and Delver decks lose some important tools (Ponder, Gitaxian Probe and Gut Shot).

You might remember when I traded out of my Birthing Pod deck to better position myself for rotation. I think it was the best move at the time and moving to the turbo-powered mono-blue Wizards deck put some money in the bank. Fast forward to today and I still don’t feel prepared for rotation. RTR has blindsided me with it’s awesomeness. When I was making decisions for rotation, the pillars of the future format seemed to be Restoration Angel, Bonfire of the Damned and Snapcaster Mage. These cards will still be role players in the new metagame, but it seems like they wont be alone. Team Gravecrawler/Geralf’s Messenger will be joining their ranks, if the price tag of Woodland Cemetery ($12) is any indication.

“I should get in on this Zombie train before people figure it out.”

That’s what I thought to myself a couple of weeks ago. I went to Illuminaudi to do some shopping. At the very least I wanted to pick up a set a Gravecrawlers and Geralf’s Messengers to get me started. I figured I could build monoblack or Black/Blue, and then work my way to GreenBlack. I must be high on bajinks or something to think that Illuminaudi would actually have relevant cards in stock. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fine place to play, but I could spill my bulk rare box on the floor and the ground would be better stocked than their display cases. It would be more organized too. Translation, they didn’t have any of the Zombies.

I trolled the internet for deals on Gravecrawlers and Geralf’s Messagners. They were $10 each across the board. I found some joker on an online forum selling them for $7 but when I inquired about them he ignored me, then raised the price a dollar. After a week of trying to sell some cards and find some deals, I came to the sad realization that I missed the boat on Zombies. I was looking at $80 to get a playset of the core Zombies and that’s only 8 out of 75 cards! Not to mention the $2 Blood Artist! I know, I know. All the guys  who told me, “Go Zombies Medina!” are flipping out right now. What can I say? You were right!

The Enemy (B/G Zombies)

Once I realized I wouldn’t be able to build the de facto best deck, I decided to peruse my other options. Before I started the mega-brainstorm session for what I could build, I decided to look at decks I expect to be players in the Post-RTR metagame. Gerry Thompson wrote two great brewing articles about what Standard might look after Return to Ravnica. Make sure to check out both parts. By the way, StarCityGames.com is a great place to read articles (feel free to compare our prices while you’re there).

With less than half of Return to Ravnica spoiled, the mad scientist Gerry Thompson has already brewed a Zombie decks that looks quite formidable. This probably won’t be the final incarnation of the Zombie deck but it definitely highlights the archetype’s strong points. That’s what we should consider when deciding how we plan to beat the deck.

Lotleth Troll —This is one of the key incentives to go Black/Green instead of Black/Red or Black/Blue. It doesn’t die to Pillar of Flame and it interacts favorably with Gravecrawler.

Gravecrawler/Geralf’s Messenger — This is the core of every Zombie deck. Pillar of Flame and Celestial Purge have been the go-to answers, but we lose Celestial Purge to rotation and the new Scavenge mechanic makes Pillar of Flame less effective. I’ve seen some Delver decks running three to four Knight of Glory in their sideboards to deal with the Zombies menace, and I could see running that card in post-rotation metagame.

Blood Artist — It started with a crazy idea from Jesse Smith (SCG Select Columnist). His idea was to play a bunch of Zombies to beat down, and then Killing Wave with a Blood Artist on the board to deal the final blow. It took a while for Blood Artista to be accepted as a staple in the Zombie archetype. But once people looked past the almost-too-cute Killing Wave tech and started testing with cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat, it was a no-brainer (see what I did there?). Gerry included one Killing Wave in his list but the Blood Artist is mostly on grind duty.

Thragtusk — If you have green mana than you probably have a few of these somewhere in your 75. Thragtusk (especially uncounterable ones) have been a thorn in the side of Delver decks and they’ll become an even bigger problem when Phantasmal Image rotates out.

The Next Hero Deck

Now that we’ve looked at public enemy number one (Zombies), we have to find a deck choice that has game against it. The natural progression is to build on one of the decks I already have. In my last article, I ruled out trying to rebuild Goblins because Goblin Chieftain and Goblin Wardriver were far too important. That leaves me with Delver, but I don’t want to start the season with Delver for these reasons.

1. It’s freaking boring! You guys (and gals) don’t want me to write about that silly deck!

2. Every version of Delver will require an expensive manabase upgrade. I expect the popular builds to be Blue/White, Blue/Red and Blue/Green/x. All of these will require shocklands and a mix of the newly expensive Innistrad dual lands.

3. Delver will be best once the metagame settles and the mixure of instants and sorceries gets dialed in. Once that happens, I’ll work on getting the important spells to keep my “cash cow” deck intact. Until this happens I’ll be rocking something else.

But what? As I looked over my options, I noticed the tribes have not been fully developed. Frites or Reanimator will probably be a deck, but FNM Hero can’t afford the billion bajillion-dollar manabase that will be needed.


I looked into a Primal Surge Elves deck but it’s a couple of elves shy of being feasible. Here’s what we have to work with.

Arbor Elf
Elvish Visionary
Elvish Archdruid
and maybe Avacyn’s Pilgrim (which is a Human, not an Elf).
Craterhoof Behemoth
Primal Surge

I think Craterhoof Behemoth is the real deal. The use of him in Frites (with [card]Lingering Souls[/card) is really awesome and at $3, it’s hard to lose value by picking these up before rotation. You’ll notice I pick up a couple of these in trades (next episode) but there’s not enough support for an Elves deck at the moment.


This archetype is exciting to me because I already have Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage and Talrand, Sky Summoner in my collection. I did a Gatherer search to see what other support creatures were available.

Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Master of the Pearl Trident
Augur of Bolas
Scroll Thief
Talrand, Sky Summoner
Snapcaster Mage

With a couple more bodies and a Spreading Seas effect this deck can really be a contender, but for now the fish people will be hanging out with the Elves, talking about how it used to be.


This deck feels like a solid punch in the mouth. Aside from Bonfire of the Damned, the meta doesn’t seem prepared for an army of hexproof flyers. It’s a deck I’ve considered over the last couple of months but I didn’t want to invest in Darkslick Shores. The deck is lacking in the Blue/Black mana area since Watery Grave won’t be printed until Gatecrash, but I think that’s OK since the Black is only a light splash to flashback Lingering Souls. I’d consider this archetype if I can find the resources to build it.

This is a port from Jon Finkel’s Esper Spirts list and it will need some testing and tuning before you can call it a real deck. I’d be tempted to play with the removal/counter suite. I don’t know if Azorius Charm is any good. You’ll want some number of Negate and Syncopate to protect yourself from Bonfire of the Damned, but I’m not sure what mix you want. I’m not in a position to pull the trigger on this deck, but picking up relevant cards seems like a good idea because most can be used in other strategies.

Humans AKA “The Good Guys”

As I dug, I found this tribe was surprisingly deep. I played Humans at the beginning of Innistrad Standard and I loved the deck. It was fast, powerful and had solid matchups. As the metagame developed, Humans fell out of flavor and the deck concept was temporarily lost to the world.

Until now.

There’s a bulk rare I’ve loved since the day I saw it. It’s been waiting in the far reaches of shoeboxes and in the back of binders for its moment to shine. That moment is now. Feast your eyes on pure bad assery!

Wait. … Not that pure bad assery. I meant this one. … Now, feast your eyes on more bad assery.

Now that we’re fully transitioning to Innistrad Block Standard and Zombies is at the top of the food chain, this guy has finally earned a maindeck spot. Furthermore, Elite Inquisitor and Knight of Glory are new incentives to return to the Humans archetype. Not to mention the other incidental hate cards like Riders of Gavony and Slayer of the Wicked. The prospect of slaying zombie hordes drove me deep into the tank, where I started the brewing process.

The most obvious loss for the Humans deck is Honor of the Pure. This is why Gerry Thompson chose to go with the Voltron strategy in his White Weenie build. The decklist below relies on exalted from Sublime Archangel and double strike from Ajani, Caller of the Pride (or Silverblade Paladin) to finish your opponent in one fatal hit.

FNM Hero can’t afford Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Sublime Archangel, so I need to attack from a different angle. I also needed to find a replacement for Honor of the Pure. After a few hours of trolling decklists and Gatherer I found these three “replacements”:

Gavony Township — This is a great option but I’d rather build Blue/White to keep the initial cost low. I also think Moorland Haunt is well positioned because it gives the deck reach and it battles Planeswalkers well.

Mikaeus, the Lunarch — I’ve always thought this card was really powerful and Mikaeus might see the love he deserves now that Honor of the Pure is rotating out. It’s worth noting this is an uncounterable pump spell with Cavern of Souls. Unfortunately, FNM Hero’s Mikaeuses will be always be counterable since he’s poor.

Angel of Jubilation — I played this in a token build once and it was decent. An Honor of the Pure attached to a 3/3 flyer is nothing to sneeze at. Its other abilities seem largely irrelevant with the Scars of Mirrodin block rotating out but at least it stops your opponent from activating Griselbrand!

Gerry’s list was pretty close to what I was building so I took his list and tuned it for budgeting purposes. Here’s the new list.

The substitutions were pretty clean. I cut the Sublime Archangels for Angel of Jubilation and the Ajanis for Mikaeuses. I’m going to try Doomed Traveler over Dryad Militant in the main because I can get more value out of the token since I’ll be pumping my team. I could be wrong there but this is the list that I’ll be testing with to start. If you have suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Magic Celebration

You may have noticed there wasn’t a lot of playing in this week’s FNM Hero. That’s because my wife detained me for the week. Instead of playing I spent a lot of time reading and brewing so I hope you don’t mind the brain dump. I did get to sneak out and play in the Magic Celebration weekend.

This was an awesome promotion done by Wizards of the Coast where you can get free cards. WotC sent boxes of M13 to stores all over the country (maybe the world, I’m not sure) and the stores were instructed to use the boxes for a free Mini-Masters tournaments. What’s Mini-Masters? Yeah, I didn’t know either. Basically you open a pack, and then add three of each basic land to form your deck. Then you battle. If you win, then you get to add another pack. In a 30 card deck format, you can imagine my joyous celebration when I opened this:

Needless to say I won that flight and was crowned Awesome-Pack-Opener of the Universe.

I started a second flight and died in the first round, but I still consider it a win.

I had a reason to celebrate that weekend. Free cards that I didn’t have to dig out of the trash! What could be better.

Come back for more

Will I find the human cards that I need before they go up and I get priced out?
Will I get another victory with my Goblins at FNM?
Will Polish Tamales draw another insane cartoon?

All this and more next episode, see you then! As always, thanks for reading.

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art By: Polish Tamales 

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