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Thread: Help with Zombie Combo

  1. #1

    Help with Zombie Combo

    Hello,
    Not sure how frequent this thread sees action but figure it wouldn't hurt. I'm working on a "competitive kitchen table brew" (aka, non tournament, but expect it to surprise some people in side games) of tribal zombies and looking for some ideas as I've hit a bit of a road block and any adjustment I make seems to make the deck more expensive (mana wise). The deck centers around Gravecrawler and its recursion ability to either combo off or set the wincon in motion.

    Originally, this was a remake of the old Tombstone Stairwell and Altar of Dementia combo where I'd deck myself to get sufficient creatures and over run my opponents. Then I tried to give an alternate condition of ETB effects (or dies effects) ala wayward servant or Plague belcher and the like. Obviously this meant splashing white, which I was fine with as it gave me access to Enlightened Tutor for my key pieces and removal should I find it necessary. The problem came when I was drawing my tombstone too early or not quite getting the mana (or drawing 2 of one and zero of the other, etc). So I wanted to streamline it a bit.

    The creature core consisted of the above, along with some undying creatures (Geralf's messenger, Butcher Ghoul) and some utility that played nicely with that (Fleshbag Marauder, Plague belcher above, etc). Tidehollow Sculler provided a nice disruption on a body and also allowed for some shenanigans with the old wording.

    After having some fun with that build, I tried out Phyrexian Altar that was an infinite recursion with Gravecrawler and another zombie in play (And if that was one of the ETB/Dies effects above, then that was game). This works well too as it acts like a mini curve if I need to get one more mana to get the combo going, but is useless in multiples.

    Another card that seemed fun was Diregraf Colossus as Gravecrawler is indeed "cast" from the graveyard, he can go wide with a sacrifice outlet for said gravecrawler.

    So, that led to my current conundrum. I need to get gravecrawler out. The obvious answers are treating it like a reanimator deck and putting in Entomb or Buried Alive. There is a zombie for 4B that on ETB, I can search for a creature and put it in my graveyard, and will unearth itself for 3B. Can't think of the name off the top of my head. But I am testing that now, but the mana cost is rough. Then there is this Vizier for 3BB that I can sacrifice a creature when he ETB to search my library for any card and put it into my hand. Works great to get the last combo piece but, again, at 5 mana feels very slow, especially when I see it in my opening hand.

    So, I am not really wanting to load up entombs and reanimates and all of that, because I already have a reanimator deck (and it's much better lol). So I'm trying to think outside the box and get some help in the way of maybe cards/synergies that I might be overlooking.

    Decklist, from memory
    22 lands (includes 13 W/B lands, the rest swamps)

    4 Gravecrawler
    4 Diregraf Colossus
    4 plague belcher
    4 Wayward Servant
    4 Tidehollow Sculler
    4 Fleshbag Marauder
    4 dark ritual
    3 altar of dementia
    2 phyrexian altar
    1 enlightened tutor
    4 dread return



    My most recent build removed the Dread Returns in lieu of the Vizier and the zombie that lets me entomb a creature. I'm also thinking about, instead of fleshbag, the zombie that gives -1/-1 until EOT for all non zombies when a zombie enters play under my control, but I haven't tried that yet.

    Thoughts on cards to include -

    Beseech the queen
    Buried Alive
    Lake of the dead
    Charcoal diamond
    Jet medallion
    Undead Gladiator

    Something to draw cards with (in black, this should be easy to do, but I haven't gotten to that point yet).

    At this point though, I have a "brewer's block" and am kind of out of creative juices. The undying critters that I removed from the first build weakened the alternate wincon of creature beats, which was surprisingly effective, but the deck just feels too slow now, and I know it can be faster especially given its in black. Obviously a reanimator shell would fit into the zombie theme perfectly, so I'm not completely against that, I just want to try something different. Lastly, I want to be able to have a fighting chance if I never see a Gravecrawler, although that is the preferred way to go. The undying build fit that just fine, but it seems the more down the rabbit hole I go, the more reliant I am on that card, thus the need to tutor/entomb for it.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Ranger of Eos saves you a mana from the options you've listed...
    But it's obviously #NotAZombie

    Also, Altar of the Brood as a wincon option?

  3. #3

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Altar is certainly worth looking into, thanks! The only downside is it doesn't come with the built in sacrifice outlet like Altar of Dementia does. But it's cheaper mana plus it works a little bit differently so worth trying.

    Some other ideas I didn't hit on in the OP:

    additional recurring creature (but not infinite) Dread Wanderer. Helps with the agro plan too being a 2/1 for B, initially.
    hand disruption Rotting Rats - not as good as sculler, but can be unearthed and can toss a recurring creature. Also can keep it in mono black if I decide to go that route.
    draw/filter/search Grave Defiler - Doesn't get me combo pieces and would require me to pull up a Sidisi to get the pieces that way.
    the -1/-1 from earlier was Noxious Ghoul has 5 CMC though, so a bit tough to work with.
    Corpse Harvester searches for a zombie and swamp.

    also the various zombie lords that exist.

    Edit: Note for ACE and others, some of these are just notes for myself for later. In case it seems like I'm rambling, haha.

  4. #4

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Cryptbreaker and Contamination are worth looking into.

  5. #5

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Thanks for suggesting those. Contamination is a nice idea, and going down that route opens up Pestilence/Withering Wisps. Or if I feel real rambunctious Hecatomb but that may be pushing it. Thank you for the ideas.

  6. #6
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    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    I think one card for casual is Zombie Apocalypse. Any sort of cycling/evoke zombie you have available turns into solid value for 6 mana. It's similar to Living End but without the deck building constraints (other than getting to 6 mana.) Another path is to find a way to self-mill and play Return to the Ranks. Every copy of Wayward Servant triggers when entering, making it pretty strong.

    There's also this jank in UB:

    Spellweaver Helix
    Cabal Therapy
    Army of the Damned
    Quiet Speculation


    Ten cards and you get 13 zombies for a 2 card combo (Helix + Speculation.) Playing zombies like Gravecrawler that come back after being used for Therapy make good early plays. If you go BUG colors Lotleth Troll and mana dorks like Birds of Paradise help you ramp quickly into Helix mana and provide dudes to flashback Therapy. I pretty much love Therapy in any sort of recursive creature deck and zombies fit the bill pretty good. Birds has always been a great mana-fixer, especially for casual decks.
    I am counted amongst legions of the unrighteous
    who dread not being immersed in pits of fire

  7. #7

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    The issue I've come into when going self-mill routes is I wind up putting my combo pieces (the non-Gravecrawler) into the graveyard, thus kind of negating the purpose. But that was how it originally started with a creature heavy build and Dread Return bringing back the creature pieces. Outside of splashing red for PiF and getting the pieces back (directly or indirectly through milled tutors) I can't think of any good way to do that in a black-centric deck.

    Cabal Therapy is definitely a great choice. Only problem is I have ~12 copies and all are in decks right now haha. I guess no magic collection is complete with less than 20 copies of it, amirite?

    Zombie Apocalypse I think has some merit, if nothing else for a good reset on a board wipe or if I get behind from poor combat decisions. Maybe a wishboard card in the least. Plenty to think about and tinker with. I may have to bite the bullet and go full on reanimator shell. It fits the zombie theme pretty well at least. But that seems too easy and "done before."

  8. #8
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    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Quote Originally Posted by ronco View Post
    The issue I've come into when going self-mill routes is I wind up putting my combo pieces (the non-Gravecrawler) into the graveyard, thus kind of negating the purpose. But that was how it originally started with a creature heavy build and Dread Return bringing back the creature pieces. Outside of splashing red for PiF and getting the pieces back (directly or indirectly through milled tutors) I can't think of any good way to do that in a black-centric deck.

    Cabal Therapy is definitely a great choice. Only problem is I have ~12 copies and all are in decks right now haha. I guess no magic collection is complete with less than 20 copies of it, amirite?

    Zombie Apocalypse I think has some merit, if nothing else for a good reset on a board wipe or if I get behind from poor combat decisions. Maybe a wishboard card in the least. Plenty to think about and tinker with. I may have to bite the bullet and go full on reanimator shell. It fits the zombie theme pretty well at least. But that seems too easy and "done before."
    Check out this shit, it does 9 damage by itself with 3 copies of Wayward Servant and a Return to the Ranks:Buried Alive. I can see that self-milling doesn't fit, but getting 3 zombies in the grave (ones you choose) seems alright to me. Triple Servant or Gravecrawler for value seems very good.

    I would also suggest Hidden Stockpile, at least as a 1-of. It's a sacrifice outlet that replaces the creature (which you'll likely get back anyways, like Gravecrawler) and it filters your draws while providing tokens.

    Also, seriously, Gempalm Polluter!
    I am counted amongst legions of the unrighteous
    who dread not being immersed in pits of fire

  9. #9

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Alright, updates!

    So, I've streamlined it a bit and while I said I didn't want to go reanimator like, it was too spicy (and too zombie themed) to pass up. also made it mono-black (for now, at least. Amonkhet provided plenty off color zombies). Here's the current build:


    4 dark ritual
    4 gravecrawler
    4 diregraf colossus
    4 carrion feeder
    4 plague belcher
    2 buried alive
    4 entomb
    3 phyrexian altar
    2 withering wisps
    3 cabal therapy
    1 exhume
    2 reanimate
    22 snow-covered swamp
    1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed because Timmy said so!

    But for real, Mikaeus giving my creatures undying is kind of funny/flavorful to me and with a gravecrawler and Alatar out, its infinite mana. So it at least serves a few purposes. Also infinite mana with altar, Diregraf and gravecrawler recursion (infinite 2/2 zombies = > infinite fodder for the altar)

    So here is where I am at:

    Sacrifice outlets: 7. 10 if you count the Cabal Therapy, but since they aren't repeatable I don't really count them.
    Zombie ETB/dies benefits: 8 (Colossus and Belcher). 12 if you count the carrion feeder, but since its benefiting directly I don't know if thats reasonable.
    Board control: 2, with the wisps. Not sure these will stay. I may need more spot removal instead, but we will see how the playtesting goes.
    hand control: 3. meh. Almost a pointless number, given that drawn late its just kind of silly.
    Tutors: 6 - all for the yard.
    reanimate spells: 3, + 4 creatures that come back on their own.
    Creatures that can't block: 8. That can be problematic.


    Cards I'm still toying with:
    Wisps in the deck.
    Relentless Dead worse version of gravecrawler, but some extra perks to it.
    Never // Return
    Dread Wanderer additional self reanimating but slower
    Noxious Ghoul helps with board control, can be tutored and cheated into play.
    Death Wish for things like the aforementioned gempalm polluter, additional copies of combo cards, or maybe a board wipe or whatever.
    I tried Read the bones for some draw/filter but swapping them for entombs/buried alive was the right move. Thats what i usually wanted to do with stuff anyway.
    Additional reanimates instead of Exhume, just because I don't want my opponent getting benefits and its 1 less mana. I have 1 more to spare, the rest are being used in a "real" deck lol.

    I think having a few more reanimation spells or board wipes would be the way to go. Living death is perfect, and there are some zombie specific ones mentioned above. Also, Call to the Grave is a one-sided Abyss. Suck it Donnie!

    Anyway, The deck is in a much better place, I appreciate the help, just wanted to provide an update in case anyone was curious.
    Last edited by ronco; 04-19-2018 at 09:53 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

  10. #10

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Also just found Necromancer's Stockpile. Add that to the "considering" list as well.

    I'm not seeing the need to bring in any Lords at the time being. Mikeaus gives nice boosts when needed, Diregraf goes very wide (and can get big if dropped later in the game on its own), and the Carrion feeder gets massive hurry too. But obviously there are plenty to chose from, as well as a few lili walkers. The only ones I have are, unfortunately, the Amonkhet ones that aren't as good.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

  11. #11
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    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Quote Originally Posted by ronco View Post
    Also just found Necromancer's Stockpile. Add that to the "considering" list as well.

    I'm not seeing the need to bring in any Lords at the time being. Mikeaus gives nice boosts when needed, Diregraf goes very wide (and can get big if dropped later in the game on its own), and the Carrion feeder gets massive hurry too. But obviously there are plenty to chose from, as well as a few lili walkers. The only ones I have are, unfortunately, the Amonkhet ones that aren't as good.
    Necromancer's Stockpile is hawt.
    I am counted amongst legions of the unrighteous
    who dread not being immersed in pits of fire

  12. #12

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    It certainly looks like it. I somehow missed over that card when searching for zombie things in gatherer, so it will be toyed with.
    Plus, that flavor text!
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

  13. #13

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Bridge from Below?

    No reason to not use Entomb, you don't need to be a reanimator deck to run it. Zombardment runs it.

    Bridge + Gravecrawler will equal many much zombies.

    In fact, bridge + gravecrawler+altar of dementia + phyrexian altar goes infinite mill and mana, and otherwise goes infinite zombies.

    edit- in fact, now i want to make mono black zombardment

  14. #14

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    The only downside I see with BfB is getting them into the graveyard. Entomb will, or I could therapy myself. But that's about it. I could put undead gladiators back in but then that's a turn to cycle it then a turn to discard to bring it back. Definitely deserve consideration though because of how well it plays with everything.

    There are obviously plenty of "discard a card:" effects in black, but I haven't gone down that route yet so it would mean some overhauling.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

  15. #15

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    more notes for later:

    Unholy Grotto
    Lord of the Undead
    Death Baron


    Lord of the Undead plays well with Necromancer's Stockpile. Unholy Grotto may as well. Plus it could give it some later game pick me ups if it runs out of steam.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

  16. #16

    Re: Help with Zombie Combo

    Can't believe I missed this one... Phyrexian Tower!!

    cryptbreaker seems much stronger than Necromancers stockpile in early testing, mainly due to the fact it can get you a 2/2 for any discarded card (extra lands, useless spells) and the tap 3 to draw is better when starting to go off when you have shit tons of zombies. Plus its a 1 drop, can be entombed, and can swing or do other synergy things. The cantripping of stockpile is nice, but it only works for creatures and I don't think this deck has a dense enough creature base as currently made.

    I basically have the above but -3 Plague belcher, +4 cryptbreakres, and -1 Phyrexian altar. Surprisingly it seems more consistent in terms of putting out a large mass. I probably need 1 or two more reanimation spells to fully take advantage of buried alive, and with the crypt breaker and other sac outlets (and reanimation), [cards]noxious ghoul[/card] may make its overdue entrance. That would potentially negate the need for wisps and open up those slots for the 4th cabal therapy and other discard/disruption likely.

    Needless to say this brewing has been fun.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Safety View Post
    Look at the bright side, if Legacy becomes like Vintage all of us old dudes can get together, drink whiskey, and smoke cigars while we play the gentleman's format. Like an MtG speak-easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lav Dafka View Post
    I kept hearing random people around the room saying "manaless dredge!" like a sort of "hide your wives and your daughters, grab your pitchforks, say your prayers, the Beast is back" reaction.

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