A No-Brainer - Zombies in Amonkhet Standard
It has been a while since we have had a serious tribal deck in Standard. Black-Red Zombies with graveyard recursion was definitely a deck for a while, but the Zombie synergy wasn't that strong. What is nice for the Zombie tribe now is that you combine Zombie cards that have already been in Standard for a while with the new ones in Amonkhet, and you get a resurgent archetype.
Being able to draw cards with Cryptbreaker is nice, but the main reason this deck is good is the ability to bring back Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead. Cryptbreaker is a discard outlet that can trigger madness or put Haunted Dead or Prized Amalgam in the graveyard, which is why it's in the deck. Once you get the graveyard engine going and get the Prized Amalgams and Haunted Deads into play, the card drawing from Cryptbreaker ensures you have constant gas.
There are Zombies this deck could play if it wanted to, but instead went for raw power. Now that there are many more Zombies in Amonkhet, cards like Relentless Dead and Diregraf Colossus look much more attractive. Personally, I had forgotten entirely about these Zombies since they never saw much Standard play, but there was also never enough of a reason to put them in a deck. Now, I believe it is possible to depart from Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead, and move toward a more straightforward Zombie beatdown strategy. Let's go over the new Zombie creatures which look the most appealing.
It has been a little while since there have been a bunch of cheap black dorks, but it seems we have reached that point. Alongside some of the other Zombie creatures, Dread Wanderer starts to look much more impressive. This is a role player, but adds to the amount of plays Zombie decks have early in the game.
Lord of Accursed
Finally, a lord! It has been a little while since we have had powerful tribal lords in Standard, but Lord of Accursed fits the bill. This is worse than old-school Lord of the Undead, but at the same time we are still paying three mana to pump the whole team. Giving the team menace may be relevant in certain matchups, but that ability isn't the main reason to play this card. Lord of Accursed should be played in a deck that has a ton of Zombies in it so that the pump effect is that much more powerful.
This card has a ton of potential, and does a lot for three mana. Five power and menace? That is an amazing rate. There is of course a drawback, but the drawback in the right Zombie shell may not be a big deal. The two counters can go on the Plague Belcher itself if necessary, but more often than not you will want to kill your own Zombie creature with them. For instance, put the counters on a Relentless Dead already in play! If there are already creatures in your deck that don't mind going to the graveyard, go ahead and get rid of them.
The fact that Plague Belcher inflicts life loss as well is icing on the cake. Draining the opponent out is a very real way of closing out games. Plague Belcher is one of the first creatures that deserves a slot in a Zombie deck based on power level alone.
Warward Servant opens the option to branch into a different color. Another card with a high power level, the Servant adds a ton of incentive to go into white. I keep looking at Wayward Servant and expecting there to be a mana cost associated with draining life, and there isn't one. Alongside Plague Belcher, we now have access to multiple ways of draining the opponent. Since Zombies can easily come back into play from the graveyard you aren't likely to run out of Zombies to play, so the life drain can have a huge effect on a game.
Moving up the mana curve we have a big play on five mana. Lords work well when they are redundant – just take a look at Merfolk in Modern. Lord of the Accursed is cheaper, but Liliana's Mastery brings along two bodies with it, and enchantments are not easy to answer. The two Zombies created are effectively 3/3's, which then can also trigger cards like Wayward Servant that may already be on the battlefield. Since Liliana's Mastery is five mana it is hard to justify playing four copies alongside a bunch of one-drops, for curve consideration, but this is a powerful enough top end though to make it a worthy inclusion.
Liliana, Death's Majesty
This is one of the premier planeswalkers in Amonkhet, and also happens to make Zombies itself. Liliana, Death's Majesty suffers from the same problem as Liliana's Mastery, and that is being a five-mana play. It is hard not to play Liliana, Death's Majesty in a Zombie deck, though, since all the modes work so well with the tribe! If you can make it up to the ultimate and have a one-sided Wrath of God, that will likely be enough to beat any other creature deck.
The Best of the Rest
There are still several other cards that could fit will in a Zombie deck in Amonkhet. None of them stand out to me as cards that absolutely need to go into the deck, but the first card I want to talk about is Never // Return since it is a generic good card. This is a versatile removal spell, not something that is specific to the Zombie deck. The front part of the card kills a creature or planeswalker, which is the primary reason to play it, but the fact that the back part makes a Zombie Token is certainly a nice bonus.
After that, we have some slightly under-powered cards that are still worth consideration. Bontu's Monument could be a way of providing more life drain as well as ramping out creatures. The issue is that most of the creatures are cheap, so the ramp part of Bontu's Monument isn't super useful. Bontu the Glorified is another source of lifedrain, and I prefer this to Bontu's Monument. The problem is that there aren't that many sacrifice outlets besides using his own ability. If there were more sacrifice outlets Bone Picker could become a good inclusion even though it's not a Zombie.
I think we have hit most of the best Zombie-specific cards in Amonkhet. Lay Bare the Heart is a sideboard option but I don't think we want main deck discard. Rounding out the deck is tricky because there are a few different directions to go. Personally, I want to make use of Wayward Servant, because I believe it is the Zombie with the highest power level in Standard. The problem is that there isn't really another good reason to go white, but here's where I'm at with the deck.
The Haunted Dead plus Prized Amalgam shenanigans really don't fit here. We can't hardcast Prized Amalgam, and there aren't enough ways to get those cards into our graveyard. In order to make those cards good you are forced to build your deck with a ton of discard outlets. There is some incentive to be blue for Gisa and Geralf, but I would rather have Wayward Servant.
Diregraf Colossus is another card that we forget about very easily, but all of a sudden in a deck like this it looks good. Perhaps it is finally time for Diregraf Colossus to see some Standard play. The issue is that there are a lot of good three-mana cards, and you can only play so many. In fact, I'm worried that this list still has too many. Plague Belcher works so well with Relentless Dead that I like running the full playset of those. After that I like the Lord of Accursed and Diregraf Colossus. Both are incredibly synergistic. I ended up not going as hard on the lord theme, and having a split between the two.
There are also three-mana removal spells here. We need to have some interaction for what the opponent is doing. As of now Four-Color Copy Cat is probably the best deck in Standard so I added some Anguished Unmaking to have instant-speed interaction. The life gain from Wayward Servant can help offset the life loss from Anguished Unmaking. Even with a bit of interaction, the matchup is still bad in game one, so you need cards like Authority of the Consuls in the sideboard.
Never // Return is better than Anguished Unmaking in general, but being sorcery speed is annoying. This is another card that costs three and then becomes a mana sink later if you want to make another Zombie. Fatal Push is also a fine piece of removal, but turning on revolt isn't always easy. There are a bunch of one-mana plays here, because you definitely want to get on the board as quickly as possible. Cryptbreaker is a card draw engine that can work very well, especially if you aren't racing and can take time to draw cards. With so many Zombies there shouldn't be a problem getting three in play.
I went for having both Liliana, Death's Majesty and Liliana's Mastery. The reasoning is that you don't want to draw multiple Liliana, Death's Majesty's most of the time, and Liliana's Mastery is really good at helping you go wide. The cards work well together, it is simply a matter of how many five-drops to play. Maybe there is a way to squeeze in another Liliana's Mastery for a 2-2 split. Overall, this is a deck that has a lot of potential, as there are lots of tools the Zombie tribe has to work with.
Thanks for reading,