Magic is a known game, among its varied characteristics, as a game that has different types of creatures, full of tribes, each with its own history and culture. Most players start the game casually, so it's not difficult to meet someone who has built a deck in some format with creatures from their favorite tribe.
The goal of this new series, Magic Tribes, is to bring some external origins, internal origins, and some formats that could appreciate the synergy of uniting several creatures from a single tribe into one deck.
We'll start with Zombies, a creature type that fascinates many people around the world, and which is the subject of books, several movies and even TV shows, and, not least, my favorite tribe!
There are several legends about Zombies, most of them tell the story of a zombie virus that infects the entire population leading to the apocalypse, and generally this virus starts in the USA. But those who think that the origin of the zombies is in the USA are wrong, as the real origin seems to be from a Caribbean island, Haiti, a country that inherited much of its culture from African countries after centuries of slave trafficking.
The origins of the word zombie come from ancient African languages in which it has similar pronunciations and also common meanings; in the mitsogo language of Gabon, ndzumbi means "corpse", while nzambi means "spirit of the dead" in Quicongo, a language spoken in the former Kingdom of Kongo, Kicongo is now one of the national languages of Angola, in addition to Portuguese.
The European slave traders brought from these regions human beings captured and taken from their homes and families, and forced to work in America generally in the cane fields, which were the greatest source of profit in France and England on top of a cruel labor force. They compelled everyone to convert to Catholicism, but to continue as their religion, many needed to disguise how to demonstrate their devotion to their gods. The best known were religions such as Haiti's voodoo, Jamaica's obeah, and Cuba's santeria.
But the real meaning of the word zombie changed over time, and in Haiti, it was a general term for spirits or ghosts, which assumed frightening forms. Gradually these beliefs were changing some aspects and even being adapted, such as the powerful voodoo sorcerers, who through magic, potions and hypnosis, made people assume a lethargic form, obeying their orders.
An example of a transformation: the sorcerer would give the individual a potion made with the toxins from the puffer fish and substances from the skin of an owl toad, then he would be buried for eight hours, then the sorcerer "brought him back to life" and gave another potion, which caused mental and temporal confusion, remaining in an unrecognizable state, obeying his master, the Bokor, who "revived" him.
Over time, the word zombie came to be contextualized in what life was like for slaves, who ended up deprived of their free will, executing what they ordered through aggressive and violent ways, becoming a metaphor.
Zombies on Magic
As we can see, zombies have a lot of history, so much that you could write more than one article just about them. But let's stick to Magic, a game that brings together many fantastic creatures, and zombies could not be left out.
There are 498 cards released with the zombie type, and they have been in Magic since its inception, as in the Alpha set Scathe Zombies, the first Magic zombie, was released. There are also two other cards with art and effects very similar to zombies and that directly mention the tribe in their text, and although it did not write zombie as a creature type, they came to be considered as zombies, having the same characteristics. They are Zombie Master and Scavenging Ghoul.
Over time, zombies became more present in Magic, many sets brought several good cards with this theme to the game, and the evolution through the years made zombies, which were exclusively black, appear in others colors.
Zombies in the Lore
Magic's history is vast, has many stories and ramifications, but in the beginning, all the stories that were told justified the creation of the cards so that they made sense, and it took place in Dominaria. All the early tales came from that plane. Over time, other planes were explored, both referring to past and future.
As we've seen before, zombies have been part of Magic since its inception, and necromancers and other dark mages created some zombies by making the dead revert to an undead state. However, since the planes' creation, zombies always showed up without relevant appearances.
One of the most important necromancers so far was Lim-Dûl the Necromancer, creator of zombie armies that fought in the Lim-Dûl War in the year 2946, a war that took place about 12 years after Lim- Dûl escaped from Dominaria to Shandalar.
Before and after Lim-Dûl, there were other powerful zombies, some resurrected after many years by the ambition of dark magic users, like Dralnu, Lord of Corpses who was a living warrior but was revived by an unknown necromancer, and became his follower, thus becoming a necromancer zombie from Urborg. Another situation happened by preparation of greedy and unlimited power-hungry sorcerers, who awaited death, like Nekusar, the Mindrazer, another zombie necromancer who prepared for his afterdeath long before it had happened, becoming a Lich lord, far more powerful than in life.
Another sorceress who leaned towards Dark Magic was Liliana Vess, who before being a necromancer influenced by Nicol Bolas, was from a noble family and belonged to a sacred order of Clerics, but studied necromancy in secret, believing that her healing spells would be much more efficient, and in an opportunity to save her brother, she used necromancy to heal him, which made him insanely aggressive, killing many people, and to try to stop him, revived everyone he had killed, making them zombies, and with that, her spark ascends, but she had to sacrifice her brother to do so.
In the early 4000's, The Cabal was created by Virot Maglan, a human who lived about 256 years and who was also the first patriarch, a position he held for many years due to that long lifespan.
The Cabal existed on the continent of Ontario, in Dominaria, and in it many Mages, sorcerers and Clerics of the time created zombies from Beasts, Birds, Dwarves, Dragons and with these zombies, attacked several villages, using their powers to be feared, gaining influence and money.
Zombies in the Formats
There are 353 legal zombie creatures in Modern, in addition to cards that mention zombies in their effects.
On top of the current Metagame, Zombies don't have a dedicated deck, but some players try to run some lists in several tournaments, as we can see in the deck below, where the user Stuto made a 5-0 on February 16th in a Modern League.
The deck has already appeared with a little more frequency and in relevant positions, as is the case in the list below, by the player Michael Diezel, Top 8 of the Berlin PTQ in 2012.
For Pauper, 234 cards are legal, and over the years, some decks have used some zombie cards, such as Gurmag Angler, present in the format's MBC, UB, BG. We also see Carrion Feeder that is usually present in aristocrats decks, which have a game plan focused on sacrificing creatures, and in BG combos
But an all-Zombie deck hasn't been used on Pauper for many years, and it has never been a Tier One deck, but I must say it can be fun if you know how to play zombies well. In tournaments here on CardsRealm, on the free circuit, there are always decks with zombies and recently the player Grantfly took a risk in a Challenge playing with Zombies, getting into the top 32.
Tribal zombie decks started appearing in the metagame in 2012, ranking among the best decks in 2013 and 2014, and even in 2012, a Zombies Bombardment list reached the Top 8 of the Atlanta GP, with the American pro-player Samuel Black:
That year, some of the same or little-changed lists continued to appear in smaller tournaments, as well as in the years that followed, 2013 and 2014, such as Magic Online's daily leagues and events.
After 2014 a deck with the same concept, but with some changes, reappeared in 2017; but one list that really stood out was in 2019, with the launch of Modern Horizons, which brought Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.
Even though it was a small tournament in Sweden, the Hogaak list of the top 8 player, Gustaf Lindgren, is worth mentioning:
Basically, all existing zombie cards are legal in Commander.
The format is one of the gateways to the game, especially for those who played in the past and are now coming back.
In the past, it was common for casual players to cling to a tribe or some color, and build a deck based on that chosen theme. This allowed people to always identify with a tribe, and there was quite a bit of everything. Zombies have a lot of good stuff for this format since its inception. Ever since EDH, Elder Dragon Highlander, when only the legendary dragons were used, with Bladewing the Risen.
Of course, since then, many other decks have appeared and evolved every year, after all, Commander is the most played format in the world.
Let's look at some examples of Zombies that can make good commanders:
Nekusar is a deck that punishes all opponents who try to conquer card advantage, and combines dangerous colors, with quality counterspells and removals, in addition to tutors.
It is the newest zombie commander and has been gaining a lot of space at the tables for being a strong and overwhelming deck, having hard to deal with combos if you don't have enough counterspells.
Zombies at Standard
In Standard, Zombies always appear, but most times in decks outside the metagame, and that maybe wouldn't be worth using in a big tournament. But if your goal is to have fun, assemble your tribe and play at your local store.
For some years, Zombies figured as supporting characters in several decks, but in 2012 they entered as the second most played deck of the entire year, with 13% of the metagame, with expressive results in Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and being one of the three decks of the World Magic Cup champion country, as well as being one of the third and fourth placed decks.
The list below is from the player Yu Ming Yang, with a BR Zombies:
At the Grand Prix Lille, this time a UB Zombies placed first, with player Richard Parker. The deck seems to be a little more reactive to the metagame at the time.
After the rotation, a few things changed, and Zombies' efficiency dropped with each set release in 2013, especially with the rise of Jund Midrange and some more aggressive decks with red. Dropping from 13% to only 3% of the metagame.
Zombies today are limited to sporadic appearances from some decks, but nowhere closer than as it was in the past.
We've seen that both in the culture and in Magic's lore, zombies are very famous, loved and exploited in different ways. They've already shined in some decks, and in fact they have a very remarkable figure for all the formats that they've gone through and will go through because it's certainly a tribe that will never leave Magic, being part of the game's history.
I hope you enjoyed the article and see you next time!