Zombies are one of the oldest creature types in Magic: the Gathering debuting as far back as Alpha. This classic tribe is well known for their ability to rise from the dead and out-grind any opponent who is trying to stop the horde. However, zombies have never had a very strong presence in formats such as Modern despite their large card pool. Unlike other tribal decks, such as spirits and humans, zombies don’t have a lot of interaction to stop the opponent, and they can’t race in the same way goblins and elves can. Zombies, however, do have one massive strength over every other tribe: inevitability. Zombies can effortlessly rebuild their board, even when the board wipe is self-inflicted.
Gate to the Afterlife
Truth be told when I first built this deck I didn’t intend for it to become a zombie tribal deck. I instead stumbled across a demon that I had personally never heard of before. Demon of Death’s Gate caught my interest because it was doing something that is traditionally very broken. It costs 0 mana for a 9/9 with flying and trample. It obviously isn’t as simple as casting an Ornithopter, but the conditions aren’t outrageous either. Three black creatures and six life can be steep but the payoff is an alarmingly fast clock. In Modern with all of the fetches and shocklands, that is a two turn clock as soon as you can resolve it. Three-for-oneing yourself may not seem appealing, but if Demon of Death’s Gate is ever going to be good, zombies are the way to break it.
Zombies possess very unique qualities that make them the perfect sacrifice targets for Demon of Death’s Gate. Sending three creatures to the graveyard is just an average Tuesday for zombie decks. With recursive threats such as Gravecrawler, creatures that want to be sacrificed such as Stitcher’s Supplier, and Undead Augur recouping the card loss, zombies don’t really care about the card disadvantage. Many times it is actually better for zombies to be in the graveyard instead of the battlefield.
This brings us to the other half of the equation. Zombies have access to a unique combo kill that only requires having creature cards in the graveyard. With Rally the Ancestors you can summon your entire graveyard back to the battlefield for a turn. They don’t get a chance to turn sideways but thanks to Wayward Servant that isn’t needed. Rally the Ancestors lets you drain your opponent for each zombie in your graveyard at instant speed. Or bring back three zombies to get a demon on the board. This deck even has a viable plan c. When your demon and rally lines are thwarted, turning some zombies sideways can still get you the win.
It wasn’t until after I had already created my first decklist that I realized SaffronOlive has already made a video about this same style of deck. SaffronOlives deck was a mono-black design with no Rally combo line and was much more focused on recursive one drops. However, SaffronOlive was missing out on possibly one of the best cards in the deck in his version. Lazotep Reaver from War of the Spark looks like your average draft chaff garbage, but it is actually one of the best cards in the deck. It single-handedly gets us two-thirds of the way to a demon and drains for two when going for the Rally line. And when we’re playing beatdown, getting two triggers on Champion of the Perished can establish a very quick clock.
The final piece of the puzzle that pushes this deck over the top is Liliana, the Last Hope. A powerful threat in her own right, Liliana is the perfect planeswalker for what we’re trying to do. Most people know her for her ability to kill monkeys with her +1, but I wanted her for the second ability. Raise Dead effects are typically not considered Modern playable, but with Stitcher’s Supplier a demon usually ends up in the graveyard one way or another. Liliana also helps to diversify the threat package even further. In the event that plans a, b, and c have been thwarted, it is not unreasonable to push for her ultimate and overwhelm them with an army of tokens.
Now I think it is important to be honest about the shortcomings that this deck can have. While there are games where you curve Cryptbreaker into Lazotep Reaver and just smash them with a turn two demon, the deck can just as easily do nothing relevant. In order to make the combos work sometimes you have to play dinky creatures that don’t really do much on their own. Graveyard hate, while not impossible to win through, is still annoying to deal with. If Demon of Death’s Gate gets answered it can be hard to rebuild fast enough for it to matter. This deck can also be really taxing on your life total even with Wayward Servant.
However, while there are flaws, this deck can still do some really powerful things. Murktide Regent shows just how powerful a huge flying creature can be, and you’ll never see anything on the battlefield as big as Demon of Death’s Gate on turn two. Path to Exile is at an all-time low, and it is hard to counter the demon if you only have one land in play. This deck is also packed with synergy which turns forgotten commons like Lazotep Reaver into one of the most potent enablers in the deck. Rally the Ancestors being a one card combo kill makes it easy to sideboard it out against graveyard hate and instead focus on other lines. Undead Augur can draw a disgusting amount of cards outgrinding anything, while also digging you towards your sideboard hate.
Demon Rally mashes two different zombie strategies together into a single deck that can kill you in dozens of ways. Rest in Peace doesn’t matter if you’re attacking your opponent for half of their life total on turn three. Rally the Ancestors mid-combat after they choose to not block your Champion of the Perished. Build your own Greed with Gravecrawler, Carrion Feeder, and Undead Augur. I have had a lot of fun with this deck and imagine that other zombie tribal players would also have fun with it. Give it a whirl at Friday night Magic and I think you might be surprised of what it is capable of.