Beating Zombies – a Love Story

It all started a while ago. I was happily playing with [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], using fetchlands to shuffle away chaff after a brainstorm, while [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] was fetching me Swords to wreck control opponents. I loved the deck, it was great and full of powerful cards. And then, as usual, GerryT made it even better. He added [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] and [card]Basilisk Collar[/card].

Yes, I am talking about Zendikar-Mirrodin Standard. What did you think?

Anyway, back to [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card]. This guy, combined with [card]Basilisk Collar[/card], was insane. Creatures couldn’t touch you, no matter how big they were. They just died. The only thing opponents could do was play out as many creatures as possible, trying to overcome the Abyss for their best creature every turn-only to be wrecked by the [card]Day of Judgment[/card] that Jace tucked away on top of your deck for when you needed it. Good guy Jace always had your back. I remember this one time, when Jace and I went to a bar, and we…

Ho, getting off track again. [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] I was talking about. You see, [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] was a lot of fun for me, even after they banned Jace and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. You needed to play more [card]Basilisk Collar[/card]s to be able to kill bigger creatures, but the Sparkmage did some work on his own too. Did I tell you yet they reprinted it, but made it better?

Check out [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card].

So, we trade the ability to shoot your opponent for Flash, two extra points of toughness, and the ability to kill multiple creatures at once? People weren’t kidding about power creep! Also, a foil [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] looks so good, your opponents will surely get distracted and make misplays, so it’s even better than you already think!

All kidding aside, with nine BR Zombie decks making the top 16 of the StarCityGames Open in Baltimore, it might be this pretty girl’s time to shine. Staticaster blocks [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] all day and kills [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, Knight of Infamies and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s on sight. That means [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] deals with every creature but [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] out of the common BR Zombies deck for a measly three mana. I think I’m in love.

But, what deck do we play this card in, then? Well, it depends on your preferences, and because I’m an all-inclusive kind of guy, I’ll give you a combo deck, a control deck, and a creature deck that all use and abuse the Staticaster.

Combo: Rise Against the Undead Machine

[Deck title=”Rise of the Humans by Jay Lansdaal”]
[Creatures]
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*2 Armored Skaab
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Goldnight Commander
*4 Huntmaster of the Fells
*1 Zealous Conscripts
*4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*2 Chronic Flooding
*4 Faithless Looting
*3 Izzet Charm
*4 Mulch
*4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Land]
*2 Cavern of Souls
*2 Clifftop Retreat
*2 Hallowed Fountain
*4 Hinterland Harbor
*4 Rootbound Crag
*4 Steam Vents
*1 Sulfur Falls
*4 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*3 Cathedral Sanctifier
*1 Purify the Grave
*1 Feeling of Dread
*2 Ray of Revelation
*4 Loxodon Smiter
*1 Clone
*1 Goldnight Commander
*1 Zealous Conscripts
*1 Craterhoof Behemoth
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

The premise of this deck is simple: you mill yourself when convenient and play out creatures to prevent your opponent from beating you while you set up. Those creatures will chump, trade, and grind down your opponent’s resources; then you bring them all back with an [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card]. You can hardcast her or bring her back from the dead with [card]Unburial Rites[/card], whichever is more convenient.

There are a couple of nifty things about this deck: first, excluding the Huntmasters, the entirety of non-land spells together costs less than a single [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], but your manabase costs about a million dollars. Real estate is a good investment in Magic though, so with that financial tip of the week (who needs Medina?), this might be a nice semi-budget option.

Other interesting things include the new Cunning Sparkmage-Basilisk Collar combo in Izzet Staticaster-Nightshade Peddler, and the use of [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] to kill opponents the same turn you reanimate an Angel. [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] might seem janky if you don’t draw a Staticaster, but it’s also good with [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]. It can also just bond with whatever other creature you have and threaten to trade with their biggest creature thanks to deathtouch.

After game one, you can bring in the second Conscript, the second Commander, and a [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] against sweepers, to try and kill your opponent the turn you reanimate an Angel or the ‘Hoof. Against decks with a bunch of counterspells but not as many sweepers, you can bring in [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]s to just beat them down, and against aggressive decks, the Sanctifiers and a [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] come in. [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] is there against [card]Rest in Peace[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s; Clone and [card]Purify the Grave[/card] can come in against Reanimator decks.

Things to take out are the Commander, Conscripts and [card]Chronic Flooding[/card] against aggressive decks; [card]Armored Skaab[/card] and one or two Peddlers or Staticasters against control; Floodings and [card]Armored Skaab[/card]s if you’re bringing in Smiters; and an [card]Unburial Rites[/card] or two, and maybe an Angel, if you expect a lot of graveyard hate.

Control: Guess What I Have?

[Deck title=”UWR Flash by Gerry Thompson”]
[Creatures]
*4 Augur of Bolas
*4 Snapcaster Mage
*4 Restoration Angel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Pillar of Flame
*4 Thought Scour
*4 Azorius Charm
*1 Izzet Charm
*2 Think Twice
*1 Runechanter’s Pike
*1 Counterflux
*1 Dissipate
*1 Rewind
*1 Supreme Verdict
*3 Sphinx’s Revelation
[/Spells]
[Land]
*4 Clifftop Retreat
*4 Glacial Fortress
*4 Hallowed Fountain
*2 Island
*1 Moorland Haunt
*1 Mountain
*1 Pains
*4 Steam Vents
*4 Sulfur Falls
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*2 Dispel
*1 Negate
*1 Rest in Peace
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*2 Oblivion Ring
*1 Supreme Verdict
*3 Jace, Memory Adept
*1 Drogskol Reaver
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

I’m sure there will be an article on StarCityGames (or already is by the time this gets published) by the master himself, so I won’t embarrass myself here by trying to give you an extensive breakdown of Gerry Thompson’s deck. I will point you at the 4 [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]s in the board, just to show that better players than I are apparently also vying for the affection of this powerful lady.

Otherwise, this is an updated version of the now well-known UW Flash deck, which lost a lot of its appeal with the number of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] being played (see Nick’s article). Gerry cut down on the number of counters, and played more removal to make his deck stronger against the Cavern decks. He did not cut all of the counterspells, which I agree with not only because they are still good against control decks. Against a deck like Zombies, you would like to counter [card]Hellrider[/card]s, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s, and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s, which all happen to be a different creature type. So unless your opponent drew three Caverns, those counterspells aren’t completely dead.

Creatures: There’s a Bug in My Rug

[Deck title=”Staticaster-Jund by Chris Benzinger”]
[Creatures]
*4 Deathrite Shaman
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Evil Twin
*2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
*3 Huntmaster of the Fells
*4 Olivia Voldaren
*4 Thragtusk
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Farseek
*4 Tracker’s Instinct
[/Spells]
[Land]
*4 Blood Crypt
*2 Cavern of Souls
*3 Hinterland Harbor
*1 Kessig Wolf Run
*4 Overgrown Tomb
*4 Rootbound Crag
*3 Steam Vents
*4 Woodland Cemetery
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*3 Appetite for Brains
*1 Duress
*1 Huntmaster of the Fells
*1 Mizzium Mortars
*3 Pillar of Flame
*1 Rakdos’s Return
*2 Slaughter Games
*2 Snapcaster Mage
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Like the previous deck, this deck also made top 8 at the TCGplayer MaxPoint 50K Championship, and is also good at beating up on a bunch of Zombies. Once again wielding the powerful Izzet Staticaster-Nightshade Peddler combo, this grubby four-color deck dominates creature matchups. For a more in-depth article on this archetype, check out Alex’s article.

In short, [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] can also pair with [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] to create a deathtouch pinger that can be used more than once a turn, and you have Tracker’s Instinct to find the right combination of creatures or sometimes just fix your mana.

Outside of the creature-killing combos, the deck plays full suites of a bunch of good cards, and can become a regular Jund deck after game one. Against control decks, [card]Appetite for Brains[/card] into [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] flashing back Appetite should strip them of a lot of their relevant actions, letting your creatures smash through what’s left.

In Case She’s Not Your Type

Now, I can totally understand if you’re not as madly in love with [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] as I am. She might not be your type. So what do you do if you still want to bury some Zombies for good?

First, let’s assess why Zombies is a problem in the first place. The most common Zombie deck is the one that tops out with [card]Hellrider[/card]s, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s, and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s. These heavy hitters are the undoing of most decks trying to beat Zombies with conventional methods-you know, the ones who play a turn-three [card]Centaur Healer[/card] into a turn-five [card]Thragtusk[/card] and hope that is enough. With these four- and five-drops, the Zombie deck can push through so much damage, especially with the flyers, that it can ignore [card]Thragtusk[/card]s. The beast might as well not even be there.

There is also an issue with the removal spells people play. [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] is great for stopping the initial onslaught, but it does next to nothing against a [card]Hellrider[/card] or a [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Even Aristocrat sometimes just eats a creature on their side and lives to fight another day. There are few instant-speed removal spells that hit all three of the heavy hitters, and if you play sorcery-speed answers like [card]Detention Sphere[/card], you’ve already taken a chunk of damage. Even popular spells like [card]Azorius Charm[/card] often aren’t very effective (unless paired with a [card]Thought Scour[/card]), because the Dragon will just come down again next turn thanks to [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. The loss of tempo is minimal because you generally aren’t winning a race against Zombies.

Now, let’s get to some actual advice.

You could just play Mono-Red to beat the Zombie deck with its own tools (except you get to play more burn, and most of your creatures can actually block), but if you’re beating Zombies already, you don’t need my advice, now do you?

If Zombies is going over the top by doing more damage, why don’t we gain even more life? Playing as many as four [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card], combined with whatever lifegain you probably already play ([card]Thragtusk[/card]s in Bant; [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card], in Esper; [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] everywhere), gets you the time you need to deal with everything Zombies can throw at you.

Other creatures that do a lot of work are [card]Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice[/card], and [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card]. Both of these creatures have a big enough butt that they won’t die to just a [card]Searing Spear[/card], and both can get you out of the reach of Dragons, Devils, and Vampires alike. Combine them with [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card] for even more demoralized Zombie players.

Of course, if you go the ground creature route, you need a way to deal with [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], because if they get to attack every turn, the damage will add up. If you’re in green, Plummet or similar effects deal with both quite efficiently. If you’re in white, Pacifism neutralizes the flyers as well, but is less effective against [card]Hellrider[/card]. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] costs one more mana but might be what you’re looking for. In black, if you have enough other removal, [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] gets the lone haster that swings in after a sweeper from your side. If you’re in blue, but none of these other colors, I would like to see your deck. I’m always up for a good Mono-Blue list.

Good luck showing those Zombies why you’re still alive, and if you need me, I’ll be under the [card]Izzet Guildgate[/card] with a guitar.

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO