Greetings Gladiators! With The Armory #5 my goal is to increase your knowledge about Gladiator so your brains are more delicious to my Zombies! Or at least that’s how I convinced them to let me go free. Mono-Black Zombies is a strange mix of Midrange and Aggro, capable of fast starts but also with late game staying power. With a multitude of anthems, the stats of Zombies can get out of hand quickly. And thanks to Innistrad: Midnight Hunt’s new Decayed mechanic an army of attackers or fodder can be created with relative ease. Will my Zombie army shamble towards victory or will they decay too quickly to eat my opponent’s brains? Let’s find out!
About The List
Mono-Black gives us access to several pip-intensive power houses that would be difficult to cast with non-Swamp lands clogging our mana base. Additionally, because of the few untapped dual lands available in our format, the consistency of a mono-colored mana base will make the deck stumble less during aggressive starts and mulligan less at the beginning of the game. Finally, other colors just don’t offer much. While there are a few blue Zombie payoffs, the best ones cost only a single pip and can be splashed. The white ones just aren’t powerful enough to warrant inclusion compared to the blue ones. Sorry Wayward Servant.
The Scarab God may be the most powerful Dimir multicolored card in the format, even when used just as a Control or Midrange finisher, but when combined with other Zombies it gets even more out of hand. See Gladiator Staples Part Two for a full analysis of the card. Narfi is both a lord and recursive threat. The anthem makes all your Zombies more menacing, and for only three mana he can come back from the graveyard for less than his casting cost. Because we are a mono-colored deck, we have an abundance of snow basics enabling his return. Lastly, while the Skaab only gives +1/+0 and not a full anthem, its low mana value and above rate stats make it a force to be reckoned with.
In addition to Bladestiched Skaab, there are 20 other Zombies-matter cards in the list. This includes eight lords which make Zombies bigger, eight sources of Zombie-based card advantage, eight cards that generate multiple Zombies, and numerous other effects that benefit members of the tribe (some cards fall in multiple categories like Liliana’s Devotee). While the lords are the most powerful, the real strength of the deck comes from the high density of such effects.
Mono-Black Zombies has many creatures early on the curve that exceed the expectations set by the vanilla test. This, and the high density of creatures in the deck, make it so that the deck curves out often and in deadly fashion. Cards that produce multiple bodies like Lazotep Reaver can prove especially deadly with lords because they get buffed twice over and are more difficult to block.
Late Game Grind
Mono-Black Zombies has inevitability from both its recursive threats and its sacrifice synergies. Cards like Ebondeath, Narfi, Dread Wanderer and the like make spot removal ineffective at stopping the Zombie horde. Cards like Jadar and Ghoulish Procession, when paired with Morbid Opportunist or a sac outlet such as Ayara, First of Locthwain or Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, can generate insurmountable amounts of card advantage. Lastly, Mono-Black Zombies has reach in the form of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Liliana, Untouched by Death, and The Meathook Massacre that can lower the opponent’s life total outside of combat. This helps Mono-Black Zombies find wins in board stalls against creature decks or against constant wraths and spot removal by Control decks.
As expected of a black deck, Mono-Black Zombies runs the holy trinity of hand attack (Duress. Inquisition of Kozilek, and Thoughtseize) as well as a suite of creature removal. As a Tribal deck Mono-Black Zombies also has access to Dark Salvation, which can generate an army along with killing an opponent’s threat. Sometimes it is even a one mana kill spell, which is as efficient as the best removal in the format.
Mono-Black Zombies presents a slower clock against Control than traditional Aggro decks, but recovers easier from wraths, has more reach in the late game, and has more sources of card advantage. Against Aggro Mono-Black Zombies does quite well at creating an army of blockers, though it has to be careful watching its life total when using effects like Midnight Reaper. Against Midrange, Mono-Black Zombies can match its card advantage and finishers quite well, resulting in long games that rely on the deck finding its reach. Against Combo, Mono-Black Zombies needs to draw its hand attack spells or a fast start, otherwise it is doomed to lose by being too slow.
The deck went 5-0 in matches, 10-3 in games. The deck did so well that I might bring it to my next tournament to see if it is competitively viable.
Match one was against Jeskai Midrange, and I won 2-1. I lost game one when the opponent cast a Deafening Clarion to kill four Zombies and go to 34 life as Radiant Scrollwielder gave it lifelink. Later the opponent recurred it and got back up to 54 life, and at that point it was impossible for me to come back. In game two I had an early Morbid Opportunist along with my best threats on curve, forcing my opponent to answer the threats instead of the card advantage engine. This allowed me to draw five cards!
Match two was against Mardu Aristocrats, and I won 2-1. In game one I used the ETB effect of Bojuka Bog to exile three creatures from the opponent’s graveyard to shrink their Fiend Artisan. In game two my opponent used Anax, Hardened in the Forge to generate more fodder than I could handle. Game three both of us sacrificed many creatures, but I pulled ahead due to the lifegain from Ayara, First of Lochthwain.
Match three was against Orzhov Humans, which I won 2-1. Game one was grindy, leaving up both on top decks. We continued to trade threats and answers until I drew Tainted Adversary and paid its ETB effect cost twice, leaving me too big of a horde to be stopped. Game two I lost to an overwhelming amount of tax effects such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Tithe Taker. Game three was grindy once again, and this time the engine of Ayara, First of Locthwain and Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia kept my life total high and my hand fully stocked until victory was mine.
Match four was against Orzhov DnT, which I won 2-0. My opponent at one point had Paladin Class, Vryn Wingmare, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, shutting off all my removal spells while I stumbled on lands. However, with The Meathook Massacre I was able to come back and win game one. Game two I won through using Lazotep Reaver and the Army token as fodder for Rankle, Master of Pranks in order to remove their threats. My favorite occurrence during the match was when I had to discard a card to Rotting Regisaur’s ability, and chose The Scarab God because I had no blue source. Immediately afterward I drew Clearwater Pathway.
My last match was against The Rock, a variant of Golgari Midrange, which I won 2-0. The first game was unexciting as my opponent mulliganed to three, and even a Meathook Massacre didn’t save them from my large creatures or the Persist ability of Putrid Goblin. In game two I had more recursion than I knew what to do with. I combined Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Eternal Taskmaster to wipe my opponent’s board. Later on I cast Tainted Adversary from the graveyard using Lurrus of the Dream Den and was able to pay for its ETB effect twice. This game displayed exactly what Mono-Black Zombies aims to do: deploy threats every turn and gain card advantage through recursion.
It looks like the Zombies are eating my Pea Shooters and I’m out of lawn mowers, so I have to go seek shelter at Crazy Dave’s. Thanks for the read, and I hope this helps you deploy your horde of Zombies to eat the brains of your enemies! If you have any questions about the article, or any suggestions for a future one, let me know by messaging me on Discord at WreckDeck#4901. Also, if you have a card for me to build around or an exciting deck idea to brew, mention me in the #brewers-corner channel on the official Gladiator Discord server and I’ll get to work!
I am an avid Gladiator player who wants to support the community! I’ve been playing Magic since 2007, and Gladiator since Season One of the AM League. My favorite Gladiator deck is Green Aggro.