Zombie Loam in Modern
If you’re like me, using your graveyard as a second library has always been appealing. It somehow manages to find its way in each of the formats you play. When I first started playing, I was most proud of my playset of Bloodghasts. They came and went in various brews, but never really found a home in an established Modern deck… until now.
A Dredge deck (featuring four Bloodghasts!) managed to Top 8 last weekend at GP Melbourne. This deck, affectionately known as Zombie Loam by its pioneer, Raphael Levy, has also had some success on MTGO. I want to talk about how it works and how it’s positioned in the meta right now.
The deck is actually a blast to play. It can approach a game from a few different angles, but the gist of it is the same.
- Hold off your opponent during the early-mid game as you fill your graveyard.
- Dredge what you need, when you need it.
- Out-value your opponent and finish them with creatures (Bloodghasts, Spirit tokens, etc.) and/or a sizable Conflagrate.
As you fill your graveyard, you create a ever-growing toolbox (and list of triggers) to help you find answers or finishers.
A few other angles of attack include:
- Going aggro with an early Zombie Infestation. If that fails, you’ve filled your graveyard and are ready for the long game.
- Land-locking your opponent. Four Ghost Quarters and four Life from the Loams means decks with low Basic Land counts will struggle to keep up.
What I really like about this deck is that unlike some combo or linear decks, its pieces are versatile. You have far more keep-able hands so you’re less likely to lose to your own deck. Most of what you have is okay if you draw it, and okay if it ends up in your graveyard. Here’s a quick breakdown of the cards:
- Bloodghast: Always happy to discard it or have it Dredged
- Conflagrate: “X” quickly swells with Loam and Squee. Clears blockers or goes to the dome
- Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp: Occasional finishers
- Lingering Souls (optional): Sometimes two Spirits is all it takes
- Simian Spirit Guide (optional): Explosive starts
- Zombie Infestation: Early pressure
- Conflagrate: Cheap removal
- Deadly Allure (optional): Sometimes the best defense is offense
- Golgari Brownscale: Combined with Zombie Infestation and Squee, this is two life and a zombie per turn. Three toughness also relevant in the burn match-up
- Lingering Souls, Stinkweed Imp: Stalls the board
- Necroplasm (optional): A bit of help versus decks that go wide
- Squee, Goblin Nabob: Three mana recurring blocker
- Vengeful Pharaoh: Though it allows a creature to get a hit in before the trigger, it discourages opponents from slowly pecking away at you. Usually Dredged your next turn anyway
- Zombie Infestation: Instant-speed blockers
- Discarding: Conflagrate, Faithless Looting
- Dredging: Darkblast, Golgari Brownscale, Golgari Grave-Troll, Life from the Loam, Necroplasm (optional), Stinkweek Imp
- Card advantage: Life from the Loam, Squee, Goblin Nabob
- Ghost Quarter: The peanut butter to Life from the Loam’s jelly
- Inkmoth Nexus (optional): Recurring Blinkmoth blockers
- Vault of the Archangel (optional): Late-game help vs. grindy decks
- Ancient Grudge, Ray of Revelation: Anti-sideboard tech
- Memory’s Journey: In case anyone else likes graveyard shenanigans
- Raven’s Crime: If your opponent tries to out-value you or if you have a tough time dealing with things that hit the battlefield
Older versions featured Smallpox, Abrupt Decay and other removal. Though I’ve never played those specific versions, I’ve experimented with Smallpox quite a bit in brews. The times I hated seeing it in my hand far outnumbered the times I didn’t, so I can understand why it was cut. In addition, very seldom will the deck actually draw the card from the top of their library after the fourth turn, so cards like Terminate, Go for the Throat, or Abrupt Decay are a bit of a waste in the mainboard.
How it looks in the meta
The deck is well-positioned right now and here’s why:
- Low graveyard hate: With Eldrazi anywhere between 30% and 100% of the meta (depending on who you ask), your deck needs to either be Eldrazi or beat Eldrazi. The latter means you’re seeing some pretty creative mainboards and sideboards, and that means less sideboard slots for other match-ups. This is probably the reason three (!!!) Living End that made top 8 in Melbourne. Like Affinity, graveyard decks get better as people start to forget about them.
- Resilient against fast starts: The deck can recover from another deck’s fast start fairly well whether it’s putting out a few Zombies turn two (via Zombie Infestation) or cleaning up the board (via Conflagrate).
- Excellent long game: If the game is stalled, Dredging gives you the card you want every turn while your opponents pray for good top-decks.
That said, the deck has its challenges versus a few opponents:
- Spell-based combos are difficult to interact with. (ex.: Jeskai Ascendancy, Ad Nauseam, Scapeshift)
- Decks that go wide and deep can be difficult for a single Vengeful Pharaoh to deal with. (ex.: Merfolk, Living End)
- As a deck that isn’t especially aggro, consistent life gain significantly slows you down (ex.: Collected Company, Tron via Wurmcoil Engine)
Thankfully, those aren’t the most popular decks right now, but who knows what will happen in April.
Tips and tricks
- Darkblast your Bloodghasts to save them from Path to Exile.
- Both cards you draw from Faithless Looting can be Dredged. Also, the second card could be a card you put in your graveyard from your first draw.
- Conflagrate can be cast for X=0 turn one then Flashback turn two. This empties your hand, clears out attackers and sets up your long game.
- Separating my graveyard into three piles has been the easiest to manage: lands, cards that do something in the graveyard, everything else.
- Games two and three should always include Ancient Grudge. There are too many hate cards available playable by all colours: Relic of Progenitus, Pithing Needle, Phyrexian Revoker, Grafdigger’s Cage, Spellskite, etc.
- Same as above for Ray of Revelation: Rest in Peace, Leyline of Sanctity, Blood Moon, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Spreading Seas, etc.
- Know your land base very well. Your deck plays few fetchable lands and you can’t afford to miss a fetch.
- You can cast most your spells with a Blood Crypt and a Stomping Ground.
- Sometimes, Darkblast is worth casting to prevent one damage from an attacker.
- Don’t forget to target Spellskite with at least one damage from Conflagrate so your other damage can’t be redirected.
Although we have yet to see whether the current iteration has legs in a sans-Eldrazi world, the deck has shown on a small scale that it can have success versus the tentacled menaces (and other decks in the format). If the deck gains a bit more traction, we can hopefully get more concrete data to establish what type of presence it has on the meta. Definitely pick it up if you’re looking for a somewhat competitive graveyard-based deck that isn’t Living End.