Captain’s Log #6 – The Best Deck

What I am going to write about is what I consider to be the very best deck in Standard. Actually, that’s not really true. I just wanted to feel what it’s like to type statements like that. I did, however, select the best deck choice for myself this past weekend at the Mana Deprived Super Series in Toronto.

Finding the Best Deck

There’s absolutely no structure when it comes to deciding my final deck choice for a tournament. If I had all the time in the world, I would rigorously test many matchups for different decks, but that’s just not plausible. I don’t have the time and I also don’t have friends that own a large part of the Standard metagame.

So, most of time, I do settle for netdecking which is something my friends Hayne and Richardson love to make fun of me for. Of course, I never went to the length of one Richard Hawron Jr. For the last Modern PTQ of the season, Hawron decided on his 75 by watching replays of Grand Prix coverage that weekend. He would watch every match a Channel Fireball player was in and try to figure out the Team CFB 75 via slow motion replays.

I tend to ultimately choose a decklist from a writer that I respect and unlike most readers, I often enjoy the hype that some of these writers try to instill in their articles. When someone highly recognized in the Magic community says that [card]Quicken[/card] is the motherf’cking truth, I definitely get a little excited whether it’s actually true or not.

Of course, this strategy of making a deck choice hasn’t exactly served me well. I am constantly switching decks, trying to find the latest and greatest, but I am making a million misplays due to the lack of experience that I have with each archetype. That is why last Modern season, I selected a deck (Bogle Bogle) that I had a lot of online success with. I kept jamming and fine-tuning it, which led to multiple PTQ top 8s.

All this to say that although I still try as many archetypes as possible, I now always try to ensure that I have a lot of experience behind my final weapon of choice for an important tournament. I haven’t given UW [card]Quicken[/card] Control a try yet (sorry Flores!), so I think I am making some amount of progress from my netdecking disease.


Zombies is a deck that I had been playing hundreds of games with over the last week. I was able to gain over 150 ratings points on MTGO with it and it honestly felt like I could not lose even if I tried. I have Bryan Gottlieb to thank for that.

Gottlieb, whom I affectionately nickname GPA because of his crazy academic achievements, is infamously known for being the original designer of the [card]Nivmagus Elemental[/card] deck that Gerry Thompson and Brad Nelson played at the Pro Tour, but he was also the first guy to put Junk Rites on the map, placing 2 copies of his 75 at a TCG 5K event last year.

A week and a half ago, he sent me the following picture on Twitter:

Bryan Zombies

Side note: Gottlieb wants more followers and he does post pictures of his brews from time to time, so definitely check him out -> @BryanGo.

This past weekend, I took a version of Gottlieb’s deck and placed 9th at a Mana Deprived Super Series 5K in Toronto. I was tied for 8th, but my tie-breakers were sadly not good enough to get there. I present to you my monstrosity:

[deck title=RB Zombies by Kar Yung Tom]
2 Rakdos Guildgate
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Mutavault
9 Swamp
4 Gravecrawler
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Lifebane Zombie
3 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Tragic Slip
2 Doom Blade
4 Searing Spear
3 Burning Earth
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Doom Blade
3 Duress
1 Demonic Rising
1 Mutavault
2 Mark of Mutiny

I am going to go over certain components of my final list. Quick shout-outs to Bryan Gottlieb, Jay Lansdaal, and Gerry Thompson for being my sounding boards!

Main deck

– 4 [card]Gravecrawler[/card], 4 [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card], 4 [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]

This is one of the core features of the deck. These little guys are responsible for clocking your opponent in the early game, so that your [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s can finish the job later on.

– 4 [card]Knight of Infamy[/card]

At first, I thought [card]Knight of Infamy[/card] was the worst card in the deck. It felt like it was just a bear that costed one additional mana. When asking other people about its inclusion in the list, a lot of replies stated that it probably did a good job of shutting down creatures in the Hexproof deck, such as a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or a [card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card]. This upside did not really make sense to me, because I can’t imagine being able to block them very often. My opponent would basically have to brick on [card]Rancor[/card]s, [card]Spectral Flight[/card]s, and [card]Unflinching Courage[/card].

However, during my long playtesting session and the MDSS, I found that it was an all-star for me in specific scenarios. It can hold off Craig Wescoe’s White Weenie deck. It can attack through most of Naya Midrange’s creatures. It can also pass through the numerous amounts of tokens from the always present BW Tokens deck. I happily went up to 4.

– 4 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], 3 [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card], 4 [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]

These are the more powerful threats of the deck. There’s only 3 [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card]s here because with [card]Mutavault[/card]s in the 75, it is hard to consistently cast them on turn 3.

– 0 [card]Blood Artist[/card]

Gottlieb liked them, but admitted that they were merely solid Game 1 cards and that he was taking them out very often, post-sideboard. During my testing, I was fine with them and I can distinctively remember winning games where I just swing in with a [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and then sacrifice my entire team to drain for the win.

I ended up excluding all of them for a multitude of reasons. I was always taking them out. The top 3 decks in my opinion were Jund, UWR Control, and GR Aggro. I don’t want [card]Blood Artist[/card] against any of those 3 decks. On top of that, it’s actually a very awkward card because our Zombies barely ever get to block, so our opponents can play around its effect if they wanted to.

– 2 [card]Tragic Slip[/card], 2 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], 2 [card]Doom Blade[/card], 4 [card]Searing Spear[/card]

The diverse removal package. Moving forward, I might change a few cards, but the thing that I will always keep in mind is making sure that I have ample answers to [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card]. As an example, if I take out [card]Tragic Slip[/card]s, I am going to want access to other cards that kill Olivia, such as [card]Dreadbore[/card].

– 2 [card]Rakdos Guildgate[/card]

Having 3 lands in play with a [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] in hand sure does make drawing a Guildgate miserable, but I felt I could get away with it. I added more one-drops to the deck, so that playing a Guildgate on turn 2 was more than acceptable.

I also felt like there were games where I would Miracle a Bonfire post-board but did not have any red sources on the table. That’s a scenario I wanted to avoid as much as possible. Though there’s a possibility that I might not be playing enough basics so that I can ensure my [card]Dragonskull Summit[/card]s come into play untapped.

– 2 [card]Mutavault[/card]

I enjoy their inclusion. They make the mana worst, but they have been powerful overall, allowing me to bring back [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s at will.


– 2 [card]Duress[/card]

Your classic anti-control cards.

– 2 [card]Doom Blade[/card]

Your best weapon against the GR Aggro deck popularized by Kibler.

– 3 [card]Burning Earth[/card]

The auto-inclusion to fight off Jund and UWR Control.

– 1 [card]Mutavault[/card], 1 [card]Demonic Rising[/card]

I have yet to cast [card]Demonic Rising[/card] while playing this deck. The two cards were originally [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card]s but during testing, I felt the sideboard was in need of more cards against control.

That is especially true if people are gravitating more towards UW Control (which they were in Toronto), because [card]Burning Earth[/card] is not an effective weapon in that matchup. I personally thought of [card]Underworld Connections[/card] but Gottlieb said he didn’t think it was something that the deck would want. I’m not 100% sold on which idea is better.

– 3 [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]

This is for the token decks, Aristocrats, and White Weenie. I also bring them in against Hexproof as Hail Marys.

– 0 [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s

Originally, Gottlieb had included two [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s in order to have a non-zero win percentage against Hexproof. His philosophy is to not be completely dead in any matchup and I respect that. On paper, the Zombies deck is not supposed to beat Hexproof.

However, I am actually 3-1 against Hexproof in matches. The main path of victory is to just race them while they struggle through their inconsistency. Outside of the Hexproof matchup, [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] is just always better and I just think that its upside in other matchups make up for the scenarios [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] would save me in.

Final Thoughts

During the MDSS, I went 6-2, losing to Naya and GR Aggro. I didn’t test against Naya at all and found out while playing against it in the tournament that it is probably the hardest matchup ever. Not exactly the best time to be making such a discovery… My opponent actually kept saying “I don’t know how your deck is supposed to win this matchup” over and over again.

They have too many creatures that I need to kill as the Zombie player: [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], and the list goes on. Every single one of them are just really annoying for the Zombies deck to deal with. I’m not exactly sure how to approach this matchup, but if Naya is big in your area, packing 4 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]s in your BR Zombies list is a must.

I think my matchup against GR Aggro is a lot closer. It usually comes down to a race and my loss in the tournament to that deck was due to the number of [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s my opponent was able to play against me. Losing to that card makes me feel dumb for not playing a deck with them.

I want to conclude by saying that I honestly think that this is an extremely competitive deck and I would not have brought it to compete at a major 5K event otherwise. Go test it out and let me know what you think of it!

MDSS Ottawa

The Standard PTQ season has concluded for well over a week now, but I am sure there are still awesome Standard tournaments left on the schedule before Theros rolls around.

On September 7th, 2013, the Mana Deprived Super Series brings its tournament circuit to Ottawa for a 2K tournament. I have every intention of being there. For more information on that tournament, click here.

Mana Deprived Karaoke Party

Even though it was not a GP, Scott MacCallum made reservations at a karaoke bar and once again, he rocked the house. Thanks to Tyler Priemer (@tylerthefro), we have some videos on YouTube to share with you. There’s some crazy hardcore Asian rapping action…

Mana Deprived Karaoke Party Playlist

See you soon!


13 thoughts on “Captain’s Log #6 – The Best Deck”

  1. Great job, KYT. Absolutely nothing wrong with netdecking IMO, especially if you don’t have a ton of spare time with which to test. Also, you are probably one of the only people to ever play Demonic Rising (whether that was a good idea or not).

    • It was tech from the World Magic Cup. People are playing it in their Golgari Control deck. You didn’t see that?

  2. Heyo KYT this was a nice article that demonstrated your understanding of the deck and your expectations of the meta. I like your Captain’s Log column- keep it up!

  3. Great article, I’ve been waiting for a pro to show some love for the undead! I am totally enamored with zombies and have been since Geralf was printed… My version is a Jund style (go Felipe!) With which I made top 16 at TCG Providence. I would love your thoughts on my list. Thanks again for the awesome content!
    4 Falkenrath aristocrat
    4 gravecrawler
    2 knight of infamy
    4 Geralf’s Messenger
    1 scavenging ooze
    4 Lotleth troll
    2 Thundermaw Hellkite
    3 lifebane zombie
    4 diregraf ghoul
    2 huntmaster of the Fells
    1 bonfire of the damned
    2 tragic slip
    3 Domri Rade
    4 cavern of souls
    4 overgrown tomb
    4 blood crypt
    1 swamp
    4 Dragonskull summit
    4 woodland cemetery
    3 stomping ground

    • P.S. Yes, there are 3 non-black mana sources(Stomping Ground)in the deck, but in the hundreds of matches played, I’ve rarely encountered an issue with casting Geralf. On the rare occasion, Geralf is STILL powerful on turn 4 🙂

  4. I’m really glad to see this deck list, and really like the changes that you have made. I wish I was more invested in Innistrad Block so I could give it a whirl. Do you think that the deck might have some modern potential? Just curious.

    • I wish I could tell you Brian. I’d need someone to name me some Modern tools that I could add. Are there awesome Zombies that would instantly make this deck?

  5. I own almost the whole deck and don’t want to buy bonfires because i’m only playing one tournament, what might you do without them?

    • Hey Peter! Probably have to go the Ratchet Bomb route or try Rolling Temblors though that’s kind of anti-synergy since you’d be bombing your own team. You’d have to play like more of a control deck if you elect to go with that option.


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