Even if Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is focused on Werewolves, Innistrad itself still seems awash with Zombies – a remarkably popular tribe in Magic’s history. We’ve seen various Zombie decks occasionally rise to prominence over the last few years, such as when Cryptbreaker and Relentless Dead were in Standard, or way back in original Innistrad with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger. Interestingly, however – and unlike tribes such as Elves or Goblins – the best MTG Zombies have generally not relied on tribal synergies to reach their peak potential. In fact, this list of the five most powerful Zombies ever printed contains nothing in the way of Zombie-oriented synergy. It looks like Zombies can stand on their own two feet – or shamble on their own two feet, I suppose.
As far as set mechanics go, delve was… an issue, as you might expect when it comes to anything that allows you to pay a little mana for a lot of power. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time got banned, and other delve cards shone – particularly one of Sultai’s iconic, marquee rares: Tasigur, the Golden Fang. With an aggressive delve cost and a powerful activated ability, Tasigur was very popular indeed.
Which directly led, funnily enough, to the ascendancy of Gurmag Angler, particularly in older formats like Legacy. You see, there was something that Tasigur lacked, for all his fancy abilities and succulent bananas. He lacked… a fifth point of power. Gurmag Angler could be dumped into play to stonewall opposing Tasigurs, and better yet wasn’t legendary, so you could spend two mana and put 10 power into play, no worries.
Gurmag Angler actually remained the threat of choice, eclipsing Tasigur in many cases, while delve decks remained popular. It outclassed all other delve threats in terms of stats, from Tasigur to Hooting Mandrills, and was a premier threat even in Legacy. Its best days might be behind it, but while it lasted this Zombie Fish got some serious work done.
There is a certain type of EDH player that believes that fun is zero-sum. If you sit down to play and anyone else is having fun, that’s fun that you could be having instead – why would you let your opponent have fun when that fun should be rightfully yours? This kind of EDH player can often be found, of course, with a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck sleeved up and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Nekusar doesn’t just punish people’s greed in Commander as they draw extra cards – it’s typically played with wheel effects to burn down the whole table from range. Cards that make opponents draw extra cards (Forced Fruition is amongst the most obnoxious) will also make quick work of their life total, while the Nekusar player sits there, enjoying all the fun they’re having and ensuring no one else gets a single scrap of it.
I know Nekusar is soft-banned in many playgroups due to the way games play out when he’s around, and I don’t blame these playgroups for taking such measures. Nekusar is so oppressive and such a feel bad – even as you draw extra cards, you just know your life total is going to be obliterated while you sit there with seven thousand cards in hand, unable to do anything about it.
It’s kind of a shame that Gray Merchant of Asphodel didn’t make it this time around, given how dominant this card was the first time around. Mono-Black Devotion used Gary as a huge finisher, after playing Underworld Connections, Desecration Demon and other black-pipped cards. Gary would often come down and ding you for six or eight, and if this didn’t kill you, it usually helped them stabilize.
After a reprint in Theros Beyond Death, Gray Merchant didn’t quite make it. Despite some sweet devotion options like Underworld Dreams, the format just wasn’t as welcoming to a five-mana 2/4 this time around. Despite his former dominance as a centerpiece of Mono-Black Devotion, Gary unfortunately had to shut up shop this time around.
If you see a Stitcher’s Supplier, you know the deck it’s in isn’t trying to do anything fair. They’ll be delving or dredging or even reanimating, and this card is the perfect way to enable such a game plan. For one mana, you mill six cards and soak up a few points of damage – there aren’t many ways to fill your graveyard that are as efficient or useful.
Stitcher’s Supplier saw plenty of play in Standard, and transitioned into formats like Historic and Modern as a way to ensure your graveyard nonsense would fire as early as the first turn. The fact that it contests fast aggro starts by threatening to trade with x/1s and keeps you alive by chump-blocking for extra value only makes the card even better.
It’s an innocuous-looking card, true enough, but Stitcher’s Supplier is of critical importance to decks looking to play out of the ‘yard, and there’s not really anything you can do about it. Kill it? Sure, thanks for the extra mill. Counter it? Sure, thanks for burning a counter on my one-mana 1/1. No – Stitcher’s Supplier is the perfect utility card, and graveyard strategies everywhere are all the better for having access to it.
Dreadhorde Arcanist is so powerful it’s banned in Legacy, and even now in formats like Historic it is the centerpiece of powerful, graveyard-based strategies that look to abuse its recursive ability for ridiculous amounts of value. Red-Black Arcanist flashes back cards like Fatal Push and Thoughtseize to punish both the board and the hand, clearing the way for this little 1/3 to get in.
Faithless Looting ensures there are plenty of cards for it to flash back, while Young Pyromancer provides extra value as you cast all these cheap spells (and provides bodies for Village Rites, another terrific card to flashback with the Arcanist). The whole deck functions like a well-oiled machine, and the engine at its center is Dreadhorde Arcanist.
As I mentioned, it proved too strong for Legacy – Legacy, imagine that – with the abundance of extremely powerful one-drops that are omnipresent in that format. It’s one thing to flashback a Thoughtseize – that’s disgusting enough – but never mind flashing back Brainstorm. A Legacy ban speaks to the power of this card, and I believe it to be the most powerful Zombie ever printed.
It’s unusual to have a tribal-themed article that doesn’t have any cards with tribal synergies, but that’s what you get with Zombies. While there are of course Zombie lords like Lord of the Undead and the like, the Zombie tribe has had a greater impact with more independently powerful cards throughout Magic’s history.