Standard Mono Black Zombies Deck Guide: Fear the Walking Dead

Tainted Adversary Art by Tuan Duong Chu
Tainted Adversary Art by Tuan Duong Chu
mono-black zombies
45.4% global win rate
0.25% metagame share
Powered by
best against
vs mono-green aggro
58.8% win rate
17 tracked matches
vs mono-white aggro
52.4% win rate
21 tracked matches
worst against
vs izzet turns
33.3% win rate
36 tracked matches
dimir zombies
35.4% global win rate
0.28% metagame share
Powered by
worst against
vs izzet turns
41.7% win rate
12 tracked matches
vs izzet dragons ️
33.3% win rate
9 tracked matches
vs mono-white aggro
25.0% win rate
12 tracked matches
vs mono-green aggro
14.3% win rate
14 tracked matches

When Innistrad: Midnight Hunt was announced, a lot of people were excited about it and with good reason! Visiting this gothic horror themed plane meant that many of the fan favorite tribes such as spirits, werewolves, vampires, zombies and humans will tempt players to build decks around them. For one reason or another, a deck with rotting corpses walking slowly towards our opponent always catches on.

Three cards from Midnight Hunt are making the archetype look extremely promising:

Champion of the Perished, a colorshifted version of Champion of the Parish, gives the zombie deck an amazing one drop. The incredible amount of play Champion of the Parish saw in the last few years in many Human decks gives solid proof of how good this card could be. Not trying to take advantage of this zombie while it’s legal in Standard seems like a waste…

Curiously, a two mana card that is also part of the Midnight Hunt works perfectly together with this zombie:

Yes, Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia is a Human, but it can create a 2/2 Zombie with decayed every turn and we only need to attack with the token. Despite it’s simplicity, this ability is extremely powerful, exerting constant pressure and making our Champion of the Perished bigger every turn without spending more resources on it.

And that’s not all…

Midnight Hunt gives us the Adversary cycle, one for each color. Tainted Adversary is so much more than just a Zombie. It’s not just a good two mana creature that can solidify the state of our board by having a 2/3 body with Deathtouch. It’s also a big zombie generator with its triggered ability. Even if we just pay it once, this becomes a 3/4 Deathtouch that comes with two 2/2 Zombie tokens… 7 power for just 5 mana. Looks promising, right?

I tried almost every single possible combination, with:

But in the end, I decided to try Mono Black Zombies, after seeing Divi Vilanui reach #328 Mythic with this iteration of the archetype. After testing many games, it looks like the best way to go (sometimes the simplest turns out to be the best).

Mono Black Zombies by Divi Vilanui – #328 Mythic
by Terence
Standard
Tribal
best of 3
6 mythic
32 rare
11 uncommon
11 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Creatures (17)
4
Shambling Ghast
$3.16
2
Wight
$0.70
Instants (8)
4
Village Rites
$7.96
4
Infernal Grasp
$7.16
Sorceries (6)
3
Duress
$0.75
Enchantments (6)
4
Warlock Class
$1.00
Lands (23)
19
Swamp
$4.75
60 Cards
$260.46
Sideboard
2
Wight
$0.70
3
Power Word Kill
$1.05
1
Duress
$0.25
2
Eaten Alive
$0.50
2
Check for Traps
$0.50
2
Go Blank
$0.50
2
Crippling Fear
$2.58
15 Cards
$6.43

Divi’s list looks very clean and I took it as a base for testing the Mono Black version of the deck. After a few games, I made small adaptations.

Main Deck

InOut
+2 Wight-1 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+2 Agadeem’s Awakening-1 Duress
-2 Swamp

Sideboard

InOut
+1 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Eaten Alive
+1 Duress-1 Power Word Kill
+1 Pithing Needle-2 Wight
+1 Ray of Enfeeblement

The reason behind almost all these changes is Wight. Playing with a 2-2 split between the main deck and the sideboard feels weird to me. Having 4 on our mainboard strengthens our aggro openings, and cutting 1 Duress + 1 Bloodchief’s Thirst (just moving them to the sideboard) lets us have a more linear plan on game one, while having the adaptability of changing our wheels for games 2 and 3.

Adding two Agadeem’s Awakening doesn’t mess up our manabase and adds another power play on turn 5. It’s like having 6 Tainted Adversary (in a way). Just imagine playing Agadeem’s Awakening for 5 returning a Champion of the Perished and Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia. That means 3 creatures and 5 power on the board.

Speaking of sideboard changes, we generate two spots by moving our two copies of Wight to the main board, thus letting us move to the sideboard the copies we take out of Duress and Bloodchief’s Thirst. This leave us with 4 of each card in our 75, just like Divi’s original list.

Eaten Alive was a card that was going in and out during testing between main board and side board. Standard Zombies tends to play like a sacrifice deck, trying to get the most value out of decayed zombies. Eaten Alive lets us check any creature or planeswalker threat for just one mana, but in many cases having the chance to play Bloodchief’s Thirst tends to be better. Don’t forget however, that Eaten Alive exiles the target instead of destroying it. That’s something relevant enough to keep at least one copy.

Power Word Kill is a good card in many matchups, but with the increase in popularity of Izzet Dragons, having just a pair on our sideboard looks like the good way to go. With those two free spaces (2nd Eaten Alive and 3rd Power Word Kill) we could add one Pithing Needle and one Ray of Enfeeblement. Both are great cards in the current meta. Pithing Needle could check many threats, but is here specially for fighting against Wrenn and Seven. On the other hand, Ray of Enfeeblement is very straightforward, a one mana instant speed removal for almost any creature against the popular Mono White Aggro.

The final list:

Mono Black Zombies
by Bohe
Standard
Tribal
best of 3
8 mythic
32 rare
10 uncommon
10 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Creatures (19)
4
Shambling Ghast
$3.16
4
Wight
$1.40
Instants (8)
4
Village Rites
$7.96
4
Infernal Grasp
$7.16
Sorceries (6)
2
Duress
$0.50
Enchantments (6)
4
Warlock Class
$1.00
Lands (21)
17
Swamp
$4.25
60 Cards
$306.04
Sideboard
2
Power Word Kill
$0.70
2
Duress
$0.50
1
Eaten Alive
$0.25
2
Check for Traps
$0.50
2
Go Blank
$0.50
2
Crippling Fear
$2.58
1
Pithing Needle
$1.79
15 Cards
$7.77

Card Selection

The Meathook Massacre Art by Chris Seaman
The Meathook Massacre Art by Chris Seaman

Beside the aforementioned changes between both lists, an extremely important part of our plan has to be explained for achieving optimal results with the deck.

Even if we can have really good aggro openings with the deck, we have to play attrition matches a lot of times. The meta has a lot of midrange decks, but even against them we don’t fear facing this kind of situation. The deck is really good at it! Warlock Class and The Meathook Massacre are amazing for that. We can take some life from our opponents by attacking with decayed tokens even if they have blockers for it, fix our hand, find cards with the Level 2 of the Class, and face other problematic board states with The Meathook Massacre while gaining some life in the process.

Besides Warlock Class and Champion of the Perished, our other one drop is Shambling Ghast, an old acquaintance of sacrifice decks. It’s not only a zombie that lets us pump our Champion of the Perished, it can attack or block through 2/2 creatures because its -1/-1 ability, and having the option of making a Treasure lets us have our 5 turn power plays on turn 4. Having 12 one drops lets us be proactive in almost every game, and for times when we have to be reactive, we still have 2 Duress and 2 Bloodchief’s Thirst. 14 one mana cards give us early advantages against many decks.

Village Rites plays an important role by giving us gas throughout the game. Many creature based decks suffer when they’re empty handed and without resources after pressuring the early game. We sacrifice having more creatures for the ability to replenish our hand with this card. Generating tokens is really easy so you’re not going to have a problem casting Village Rites. Plus, it lets us exchange any of our creatures for two new cards when they are going to be targeted with the opponent’s removal.

At first, many of my early lists of the deck played just 2 removals and a lot of creatures. Changing that perspective and adding 4 Infernal Grasp was the right choice. Even if we lose 2 life, getting rid of any creature for just two mana as an Instant is amazing (and most of the time, The Meathook Massacre gives us a lot of life so we don’t have to worry about it).

Finally, we play 4 Hive of the Eye Tyrant. I tried Snow-Covered Swamp and Faceless Haven, but after many games I realized that we play too many black one drops, so in many situations, having the chance of generating two black mana on our second turn tends to be relevant. Besides that, Hive of the Eye Tyrant has relevant abilities that justify playing it over Faceless Haven. If we are exerting pressure, attacking with Hive of the Eye Tyrant could be better because it has Menace, letting us push damage easier and it exiles a card from the opponent’s graveyard, something that from time to time is useful in the current meta.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Pithing Needle Art by Ovidio Cartagena
Pithing Needle Art by Ovidio Cartagena

The meta revolves around the World Championship decklists creating a more stable metagame. Facing the archetypes played in this tournament in ranked games is going to be very common, which is why we are going to tackle those archetypes in our sideboard guide.

Izzet Epiphany

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-4 Infernal Grasp
+2 Duress-2 The Meathook Massacre
+2 Check for Traps-2 Village Rites
+2 Go Blank

Playing in advance is something that we learn after playing Magic for a while. In this case, the Izzet Epiphany player is surely going to add 3 Smoldering Egg to their main board, so that’s why we side in 2 Bloodchief’s Thirst. They don’t have any other creatures on their main board and just two Goldspan Dragon in their sideboard (that are probably going to stay there), so taking out 4 Infernal Grasp is ok.

Making Izzet lose life while they’re trying to deal with our creatures is incredibly relevant, but keeping the 4 Warlock Class is enough. Even if The Meathook Massacre helps with this, Izzet Epiphany doesn’t have relevant creatures we could kill with the Legendary Enchantment easily so we take out our two copies.

We side in all our hand disruption, making our opponents have a harder time responding to our cards. Try to play thinking about the right moment to play the discard spells. For example: If we are on the draw, playing Duress on the first turn to take out an Expressive Iteration is good. If we are on the play, casting a one mana creature on turn one and a discard spell like Check for Traps on turn two is preferred.

Grixis Epiphany

In|Out
+2 Duress -2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+2 Check for Traps-2 The Meathook Massacre
+2 Go Blank-2 Village Rites
+2 Power Word Kill-2 Warlock Class

Same song, different tune. Grixis only plays 1 Smoldering Egg. Beside that, we should expect 3 Lier, Disciple of the Drowned, 2 Mind Flayer and 3 Cyclone Summoner. For covering that increment in the creature count, we should keep all our Infernal Grasp and add 2 Power Word Kill. Even if we don’t check Ashmouth Dragon, we are only facing one copy of it and we can answer big mana investments from our opponent with just two mana at instant speed. We take out Bloodchief’s Thirst because they just have 1 cheap creature; every other one costs 5 or more, so paying 4 mana as sorcery speed for getting one of them out is something we don’t want to do.

In what discard matters, we should follow the same advice I mentioned above for playing against the Izzet variant. 

Mono Green Aggro

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-2 Duress
+1 Pithing Needle-4 Warlock Class
+1 Eaten Alive-2 Village Rites
+2 Power Word Kill
+2 Crippling Fear

Like one of the best columns in the history of MTG said, we have to realize “Who is the Beatdown”. Even if we play 19 creatures just like Mono Green, Cards like Old-Growth Troll, Werewolf Pack Leader and Kazandu Mammoth are bigger than our zombies. It’s because of that we side in a lot of removal spells and we have to prepare ourselves for a grindy matchup with a lot of attrition involved.

Even if Duress is good in this matchup (yes, even if it doesn’t look like it) with 12+ targets, we have cards like Eaten Alive or Pithing Needle that also check Wrenn and Seven for one mana and are flexible with other targets too. Eaten Alive is extremely good for Old-Growth Troll, and Pithing Needle can also check the Troll ability if we name “Forest”.

Crippling Fear is amazing in this matchup. If we name zombies, most of the time we are going to keep a winning board state while blanking our opponents side of the battlefield. Just be careful with all our removals, they should side in 3 Snakeskin Veil. One mana open could mean this (or Blizzard Brawl if it’s their turn).

Temur Treasures

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-2 Duress
+1 Pithing Needle-4 Warlock Class
+1 Eaten Alive-2 Village Rites
+2 Power Word Kill
+2 Crippling Fear

We have the same sideboard plan against Temur as against Mono Green, but we have to take other considerations while playing our sideboard cards.

They play even more creatures than Mono Green, so most of the time this is going to be another attrition matchup when we have to play aggressive or reactive depending on the situation. Power Word Kill has 7 non-valid targets (4 Goldspan Dragon and 3 Moonveil Regent), but is great against anything else, so use it in the early game and try to use our other removals later.

Even if they don’t play Wrenn and Seven, Pithing Needle has amazing targets like Esika’s Chariot (they can’t Crew), Ranger Class (they can’t level up), or creature lands (Lair of the Hydra and Den of the Bugbear).

Mono White Aggro

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-3 Village Rites
+1 Ray of Enfeeblement-4 Warlock Class
+1 Pithing Needle-2 Duress
+1 Eaten Alive
+2 Power Word Kill
+2 Crippling Fear

Our opponents play around 29 creatures, so we have to pack all the removal we have at our disposal. Even if it sounds like a hard matchup, Mono White tends to be easier than Mono Green or Temur. This is because they have a more linear plan. Use your life as a resource. Waiting for the perfect time for a Crippling Fear or The Meathook Massacre (3+ targets) in exchange for letting them hit us one or two times while exchanging damage could be a game changer.

Pithing Needle could sound weird here but it’s not. Stopping Faceless Haven is great after we deal with their creatures. You could also name Usher of the Fallen, Sungold Sentinel or Maul of the Skyclaves (they can’t equip a creature again if you kill the first creature they equipped with it).

If Mono White becomes more popular, adding another Ray of Enfeeblement would be reasonable.

Azorius Tempo

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-4 Warlock Class
+1 Ray of Enfeeblement-2 Village Rites
+1 Eaten Alive-2 Duress
+2 Power Word Kill
+2 Crippling Fear

Even if a tempo deck tends to play just fewer creatures, Noriyuki’s list has 25 + some other that they’re going to side in, such as Brutal Cathar. This makes Crippling Fear incredibly good here. The same goes for The Meathook Massacre. Just have in mind that they play 2 Jwari Disruption and 3+1 Concerted Defense, so one or two open mana are always a dangerous spot for playing our sweepers.

Duress could be good here, but we want to show our presence on the field and fight their board with our removal. If you want to try another approach, taking out the full set of Village Rites while keeping the two Duress in the main board could be something to try. In my mind though, trying to get card advantage with the remaining Village Rites is a +1 instead of a one for one trade.

Izzet Dragons

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-2 Warlock Class
+2 Duress-2 The Meathook Massacre
+2 Check for Traps-2 Infernal Grasp
+2 Go Blank-2 Village Rites

Izzet Dragons plays a full set of Smoldering Egg and Goldspan Dragon and it’s for the Egg that we side in more Bloodchief’s Thirst. All the cards we take out could be good in this matchup. That’s why we leave some copies in our main board while siding in all our discard spells. Having Infernal Grasp is good, because we could take out Goldspan Dragon for two mana at instant speed. Village Rites works because they play a lot of removal and having the ability of replacing the targeted creature for two new cards lets us stay in the game. The Meathook Massacre is hard to play effectively here, but its life loss effect is good against Izzet, so we keep 2 Warlock Class. Even if Izzet Dragons doesn’t play Galvanic Iteration and removing their graveyard is not relevant, discarding two cards with Go Blank can make them stumble and have a hard time.

Finally, we don’t suffer from taking out 2 Infernal Grasp as previously mentioned as Check for Traps can take out Goldspan Dragon too.

Tips and Tricks

Shambling Ghast Art by Dave Kendall
Shambling Ghast Art by Dave Kendall
  • Our best turn one play by default is Champion of the Perished. Nevertheless, evaluate the situation. Playing Shambling Ghast first could be good in certain situations over Warlock Class or vice versa. For example: Playing on the draw against an aggro deck that doesn’t play a turn one creature is a good moment for Warlock Class if we don’t have Champion of the Perished.
  • Tainted Adversary for two mana is not a bad play. Saving it for turn five is doable, but don’t hesitate on playing it on turn two as just a 2/3 creature with Deathtouch. That will buy us an incredible amount of time against certain decks.
  • If Wight has dealt damage to a creature that survives combat and then a board wipe occurs, you won’t make a token with it. Both creatures die at the same time and the Wight ability doesn’t trigger.
  • It’s rare to level up Warlock Class to level 3, but if you can do it, don’t hesitate. Of course, it will be a game changer most of the time.
  • We could have extremely aggressive openings. We could have slower hands and have to play as a midrange deck, controlling the board and then making a good offensive with just 2 or 3 cheap creatures. Evaluating the situation and adapting to it is key to achieving victory.

Final Notes

Playing zombies made me go back in time. A few years have passed since the last time zombies were viable in Standard. With the deck reaching Mythic now, we have solid proof that the archetype could compete against the big tier 1 decks.

We play just 19 creatures, something a bit too few for an aggro deck, but we’re more of a midrange strategy as many Black-based decks currently in Standard now. Understanding this is essential. Doing it lets us face attrition matches without fear, aggressive decks with enough removal to keep them in check, and slower strategies with many discard spells. If anyone should fear it will be our opponents running away from the walking dead.

The best of all is that with Innistrad: Crimson Vow, the next Magic: The Gathering set, this deck could just get better. Even if the set is going to be centralized on vampires (as Midnight Hunt was on werewolves), we are surely going to get 2 or 3 good zombies that can make this deck better! I’m crossing my fingers for that, just like Midnight Hunt did with 4 good White creatures for our Mono White.

I had a lot of fun testing this deck and making this column. Let me know in the comments section what you think about it, and until the next time, remember to smile!

Video

Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach. Follow me on Instagram, Twitch, or Twitter.

4 Responses

  1. damianvc31 says:

    Shouldn’t Dracolich be a consideration?

    • Bohe says:

      Hi, damian. Dracolich is a great card for this archetype. Many players are using the zombie dragon in their list. We instead prefer to lower or curve, trying to have a good early game.

      Nevertheless, playing Ebondeath give us a heavy flying threat that let us win attrition matches. You could play 2-3 between the 75 without a problem. ^ -^

  2. CrakkaJaxx says:

    I run a very similar BO1 version, but I only run 3 Warlock classes(Wizards hates me and I would either draw 3 in my opening hand or zero the entire game when I was running 4) and 1 copy of Lolth. If it ever gets into a later game scenario, she is just so good with all the decay token deaths(I might just be a sucker for the card because any black creature based decks I feel she’s an auto include). I too have mixed feelings on eaten alive, since you are EXILING your own creature it doesn’t trigger any of your creature death abilities. I also like to go 2 Village rites and 2 Deadly disputes. While less efficient than Rites, Dispute gives us the treasure for a tiny bit of ramp if we sac an early Ghast. You have a great sideboard here for Bo3.

    • Bohe says:

      Lolth is an amazing card in black creature based decks. The first versions of this archetype used Lolth and I was really happy with it. I change my approach to this archetype after testing Divi’s list.

      Eaten alive doesn’t trigger any “die” abilities but, when cards like Jadar give us fodder every turn for it is really good having options against Wrenn or other big threats for just one mana.

      Mixing Rites and Disputes sounds like a good option. ^ -^

      Ty so much for your opinions about this archetype, Crakka. Hope the sideboard guide helps if you decide to try this in BO3.