I ended up registering Mono-Black Zombies for Pro Tour Amonkhet, as did many of my Massdrop teammates, but the road to selecting our deck was more complicated than it might look. In this article, I’m going to go over seven decks that I considered before making the decision to play the eventual Pro Tour winning Zombies strategy.
This deck was somewhat powerful, but I haven’t worked on it since release week mostly due to time constraints. When WotC announced the Felidar Guardian ban, I had such a limited time before the Pro Tour that I decided not to build decks from scratch unless they felt broken. I believe there is something here though, especially if the number of Fatal Pushes in the format decreases.
My build was midrange to maximize Mouth // Feed, but my teammates also tried more all-in versions of the deck like mono-red with Lupine Prototype, sometimes with a light green splash. In the end, they deemed the strategy too weak and fragile.
U/W Drake Haven
If anyone says this wasn’t the first deck Amonkhet deck they thought of, they’re lying. Anyone who remembers Astral Slide hoped that Drake Haven was playable, and that Renewed Faith was going to make it happen.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take me many games to understand that playing fair with Drake Haven is too slow for the current era of Magic.
Because Drake Haven requires you to play so many cycling/discard cards in your deck, if this U/W Control shell wasn’t good, we would be forced to try something completely different considering the selection of blue and white cycling cards is very limited.
The first reason this control version was not good was the lack of high-impact cards. You can only fit so many Fumigate, Negate, Pull from Tomorrow, and Stasis Snare in the non-cycling slots, and it wasn’t enough. The second reason was that it had to tap out for Drake Haven on turn 3 in the face of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Aetherworks Marvel.
I quickly dismissed this strategy. However, if you’re really looking to play with Drake Haven, there was a U/R build Zvi wrote about that was very interesting to play. I didn’t have time to fully explore it, but from just a few games it seemed weak to Mardu. Now that Mardu is not public enemy number one, does it stand a chance? Who knows!
Still on the theme of very obvious decks to build, New Perspectives screamed combo. Tyler Hill (Gold level pro) quickly released his take on the deck in a Reddit post, explaining his choices and offering some tips on how to play the deck.
I didn’t have high hopes for such a fragile combo deck, but I figured I might as well give it a shot and expand my knowledge of the format.
Turns out the deck was pretty outstanding at doing its thing. I was almost never fizzling when combo’ing, but that didn’t happen until turn 5 or 6, which made a matchup like Mardu pretty rough on the draw. I couldn’t imagine having to face Negate or Transgress the Mind.
My conclusion was that if for some reason the format turned into a midrange-fest, like Naya Planeswalkers no-disruption.dec, then I would consider it.
This list came out of Magic Online weeks later and I must say it is a strict upgrade over the first. I don’t know about Sphinx of the Final Word, but Approach of the Second Sun as a win condition is smart, as is playing Traverse the Ulvenwald to make sure you get your Shefet Monitors and Viziers of Tumbling Sands when combo’ing.
Despite the list looking better, I didn’t think it actually solved the disruption issue so I kept ignoring it. I know a Japanese crew played it at the Pro Tour, but none of them made the 6-4 or better lists, so I’m going to continue to assume this isn’t a top tier choice.
Prior to Amonkhet’s release, one of the decks I had been playtesting quite a bit was Temur Tower. I came very close to playing it at Grand Prix New Jersey, and Censor, Essence Scatter, and Magma Spray were some nice additions that I had to try.
The first question to answer was: is Dynavolt Tower still good even without Felidar Guardian in the format? Because if that is not the case, then there was not much reason to play green anymore, as Attune with Aether is solely there to fuel the Tower.
I took me a while to give up on this, since I’m in love with the playstyle, but we ultimately determined that Dynavolt Tower wasn’t really needed anymore. In fact, we thought a similar card advantage generating 3-drop was better in that slot:
U/R Control was the first archetype to emerge on Magic Online when Amonkhet was released, so we had to give it some attention. I was naturally attracted to it as it played similarly to Temur Tower, and I was immediately impressed. Although the Mardu matchup was not satisfying, everything else was.
Halfway through my four weeks of hardcore playtesting, I put the control strategies aside to work harder on archetypes that had better Mardu matchups, and my teammate Jon Stern became our U/R Control guy. He really liked the deck and was thrashing me in testing. He ended up registering something very close to the list above at the Pro Tour. Kefnet, the Mindful (like Dynavolt Tower) made sure you would rarely lose the late game, it attacked Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and it was a great mirror match trump. All of that without needing basic Forest in your deck!
In addition to Mardu, though, we found that Temur Marvel was a tough matchup for U/R, particularly if the Marvel list had creatures. That’s the reason I decided not to play this deck, as I thought Marvel was going to be quite popular—not having a great Mardu matchup was fine by me, but being weak to two popular decks scared me away.
The first card that came to mind when I saw Vizier of the Menagerie was Cryptolith Rite. With Felidar Guardian gone, it made sense to take a second look at decks that couldn’t support removal, which was always a flaw of Cryptolith Rite decks since they need such a critical mass of creatures.
I honestly had no idea where I was going with this idea, I just thought these cards should be tried together.
What is going on here? Well, I knew my deck was going to produce a ton of mana, I just didn’t really know what to do with it except casting more mana-producing creatures.
Samut, Voice of Dissent came to mind as a way to “go off.” It would let me tap the creatures I was playing from the top of my deck for mana, to eventually assemble a lethal board. The 1-of Aetherwind Basker was my one-shot-kill slot.
I added Nissa, Steward of Elements because I had not played with her yet, and I figured if she was going to be good it would be in a deck where almost every card is a hit for her zero ability. Turns out, Nissa was pretty underwhelming, super fragile, and wasn’t really getting me anywhere.
There were also still problems with playing zero removal spells, mainly Heart of Kiran being unbeatable.
Second Sun Marvel
The idea of not having to play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in my Marvel deck was beyond attractive to me—I can’t stand having a card in my hand that I can’t cast.
In testing, we found out this deck could never beat a Gideon of the Trials emblem. We added a single Cast Out to deal with that issue, because in the games where that happened I was able to drown my opponent in card advantage and see my whole deck, but if they just kept blockers up for my Rogue Refiners and Servants of the Conduit I could never win.
Needless to say, a strategy full of removal with a noncreature win condition turned out to be great against any midrange and aggressive decks.
The problem is that we could never beat a counterspell deck or an opposing Ulamog, since we needed to resolve Approach of the Second Sun to get anywhere. I had to put the deck down, but I was willing to bring it back in case we ended up expecting a metagame without counterspells or Ulamog. This was not the case.