I felt a bit silly as I typed up this list. A Zombie-themed deck? My readers are going to tear me apart! The reality is that with the way the cards are designed today, you don’t win by just playing all the good ones. You find a niche strategy and you exploit underused cards. Look at the Pro Tour: Atarka Red, Blue/Red Eldrazi, and Blue/Red Thopters. These are “silly”-looking decks that pack a punch and take the tournament by surprise. They’re the underdogs, no doubt, but the nut draws exist and the power is there if you can find the right ones.
Relentless Dead is a unique recursion card because nowhere on it does the word “exile” appear. When combined with a sacrifice outlet, the only limit to the cool stuff you can do with it is your mana. It’s a fine 2-drop with menace, but it also adds crazy late-game synergy to a black aggro deck—something it hasn’t had in a long time (except perhaps Bloodsoaked Champion, which saw little to no play).
Mono-Black Dead Aggro
Fleshing Out the List
Shambling Goblin may look a little out of place, but there are enough positive interactions here to warrant its inclusion. Every Platinum Pro and their mother played 4 copies of Servant of the Scale a few weeks ago, right? Moving forward, Dragon Fodder should be a commonly played card because of its obvious power with Atarka’s Command—two great cards that will remain in Standard. It works well with Risen Executioner, the deck lacks 1-mana plays, and it can even do some work with Nantuko Husk or Fleshbag Marauder. Lastly, it adds yet another creature you can loop with Relentless Dead.
Not only is Nantuko Husk itself a Zombie, but it also lets you sacrifice creatures for free. You can deal large sums of damage out of nowhere with Relentless Dead, Hangarback Walker, or Despoiler of Souls. Maybe I’m a little high on this card after having done so well with the Rally deck (where it’s an absolutely essential combo piece), but I do believe that it’s just a great card. It’s been played in combo decks for years. It can have 10, maybe 20 power for free! Not requiring mana as an activation cost means that you can go wild with the card. It isn’t hard to imagine a combination of Relentless Dead and Shambling Goblin being used to increase its power and remove blockers.
I’ve seen Risen Executioner show up in sideboards before as a solution to control mirrors and it can still have that effect today. I see no reason why people wouldn’t be attracted to removal-heavy control decks in the new Standard, and for Risen Executioner and Relentless Dead to combine as resilient threats that totally shut down removal-based strategies. Dragonlord Ojutai, Foul-Tongue Invocation, and Silumgar’s Scorn are all still legal. With Khans of Tarkir rotating out, that means no Siege Rhino and no Mantis Rider.
The overall power level of the format is going way down and when previously super powerful cards remain legal, that’s key. If those amazing cards still exist and incentivize people to play control decks, then playing a deck that totally shreds control is a great spot. This deck, or a version of it, would be amazing at accomplishing that goal.