Standard UB Zombie Gift Primer

Nick Peternell shows us why he's one of the most creative deckbuilders around with his new iteration of the God-Pharaoh's Gift archetype.

gate to the afterlife artwork
First, let me say that I haven’t been this excited by a standard metagame in quite a while. If you ask three different people what the best deck in standard is you are quite likely to get three different answers. The current contenders for best deck by a reasonable margin are Ramunap Red, Mono Black Zombies, and Temur Energy.

If you asked me (and I’m going to pretend you did) I’d give the nod to Temur Energy as it’s the most flexible and adaptable. It might also be because Brad Nelson, Brian Braun-Duin, and our friend Corey Baumeister all made the top 8 of Grand Prix Denver with the exact same 75. So I’ll tell you what, if those three are all bringing turkey sandwiches as their deck of choice to a tournament, my new deckbox is coming direct from the deli.

That being said, Zombies is still a terrifying deck. Even though it only does one thing, it does it extremely well in the most consistent way possible. As for Ramunap Red, if I ever decide to sleeve up that many basic mountains do me a favor, please: bring me out to the farm and put me out of my misery.

If I was betting man I’d wager that the metagame will become more sweeper oriented to handle Zombies. For all of their recursion it actually struggles to beat wraths and counterspells backed up by any real pressure. Decks like UR Control that can beat Zombies and Temur Energy might become more prevalent as Ramunap Red gets pushed out of the metagame. (Scott breathes a sigh of relief.) When the aggro decks get pushed out of a metagame all sorts of weirdness can happen. For example, Jeskai Gifts:

Jeskai Gift by Corey Burkhart, 11th place, GP Denver

Creatures (26)
Angel of Invention
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Champion of Wits
Insolent Neonate
Minister of Inquiries
Trophy Mage
Walking Ballista

Land (23)
Aether Hub
Inspiring Vantage
Ipnu Rivulet
Spirebluff Canal

Artifact (7)
Aethersphere Harvester
Gate to the Afterlife
God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Sorcery (4)
Cathartic Reunion
Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Mausoleum Wanderer
I wrote a couple weeks ago about Jeskai Gifts, though my build was missing a few key components.

But first, allow me to insert my foot into my mouth and take back what I said about Angel of Invention being a poor reanimation target. I hadn’t really thought through just how backbreaking a Baneslayer Angel that comes in two different sizes (one resilient, one big) actually was. An early Angel is probably one of the few ways to actually beat a good Ramunap Red or Zombies draw.

trophy mage mtg card

The biggest innovation to me is the inclusion of Trophy Mage. I did some testing with Corey’s list and was amazed at how easy it was to get both God-Pharaoh’s Gift online and drive the dagger through my opponents coffin. Having access to eight GPGs as well as any found off of all the filter effects was absurd.

Another aspect of the deck I like is the streamlined mana base. The white splash isn’t even really a splash when you consider that you would often rather have Cataclysmic Gearhulk or Angel of Invention in the graveyard anyway for reanimation. The inclusion of Ipnu Rivulet to ensure a Gate to the Afterlife activation is really strong and came up more than once in my testing. Really, the only issue I had in testing was Abrade, which is unfortunately primed to start seeing a lot more play.

Temur Energy and a sweet and similarly well positioned WR Control list made quick work of my GPGs and I was basically powerless and solely reliant on tiny creatures to try to win games against much better threats like Glorybringer and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. As much as I like the GPG package it is often solely reliant on getting one into play, and then sticking it to get wins.

Even with eight ways to access GPG the tempo lost trying to get one to stick often gives opponents enough time to overwhelm the board. I decided to find a way to beat Abrade while maintaining the power level required to muscle out midrange strategies.

I present U/B Zombie Gift:

U/B Zombie Gift by Nick Peternell

Creatures (30)
Champion of Wits
Elder Deep-Fiend
Haunted Dead
Minister of Inquiries
Noxious Gearhulk
Prized Amalgam
Scrapheap Scrounger
Trophy Mage

Land (21)
Choked Estuary
Sunken Hollow

Artifact (6)
Gate to the Afterlife
God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Sorcery (3)
Strategic Planning
Sideboard (13)
Aethersphere Harvester
Call the Bloodline
Distended Mindbender
Fatal Push
Noxious Gearhulk
Yahenni’s Expertise
I’m a big fan of what are called “clusters.” Sam Black wrote a great article here if you want some context. I highly recommend you give it a look as I owe much of my deckbuilding skills to that article alone. Put simply, a “cluster” is just a group of cards that play well together. I like to sort them by their strengths. So for example, a black removal cluster might be assigned as “good against bigger aggro decks.” A control cluster might be “good against midrange tap out strategies.” In this way I attempted to solve the problem of GPG losing to Abrade.

abrade mtg card

When you really take a look at the Jeskai Gift deck, it’s a graveyard deck that only uses its graveyard to enable GPG. This means that it’s a weak graveyard deck and exceedingly one-dimensional. It’s easily shut down by instant speed removal for GPG. I looked at my “clusters” page and started looking for something that would be good with GPG but also good when my opponent can remove it.

Enter the “Zombie” cluster. Specifically, the UB zombie cluster of Cryptbreaker – Prized Amalgam – Haunted Dead – Scrapheap Scrounger. These cards allow the deck to function even when GPG is getting shut down. Throw in some nice “hits” like Noxious Gearhulk and suddenly we’re both a competent GPG strategy and a solid Zombies deck. Not only that, but on a “map of clusters”, these clusters would be right next to each other. Gate to the Afterlife is fantastic in this deck as an enabler for both strategies. If you want a more detailed breakdown of card choices check out this articles accompanying reddit post.

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