This is a guest article by Grahf, owner of Grahf Games!
Okay, first thing is first. This deck is not Obedient Dead, for better or worse. The last iteration of Liliana’s will was known as one of the decks to beat in Duels 2013. You won’t find quite the same level of absurd power here – no Nantuko Shades, no Phyrexian Obliterator, no Murder – that being said though this is still a deck that is more than capable of handling itself and presenting a threat to your opponent. After all, unlife is where it’s at these days, why not help introduce everyone you can to the cause?
This deck has a decidedly more slender curve than Obedient Dead, with no lack of one, two, and three drops. The synergy that this deck contains is also fantastic, with a lot of cards that help play off each other to make your foe’s life miserable.
Depending on just how you’re playing you can bring some late game bombs to the field, but the way this deck has been built seems to encourage bringing the pain early and often, with just enough disruption to make sure that your hordes can get to where they need to go, which is generally to the buffet which is the other person’s face.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (It’s probably all the corpses!)
This deck hopes to hit the ground running and keep the pressure on from the very first turn. The entire thing is more front loaded with early cheap drops than anything else, and there’s enough resurrection to often be able to keep the tempo going strong. The midgame can be a little more difficult depending on whether or not you’ve managed to get into a position of dominance, but with some tricks you can turn around a close match or ensure a victory.
One of the concerns, as with many aggro decks, is running out of steam early. If your opponent can answer you threat for threat then you’re going to have a rough time. Burn can eat this deckalive, and while early trades can generally come down more in your favor, making too many can result in not enough left to push through to the win in the midgame and no gas in the tank for the late game.
Deck Strategy: Share the pain, hog the gain
Under the right circumstances this deck can and will make your opponents choices extremely painful. There are some key cards in the deck that can force a lot of sacrifices, and while your undead minions can (and will) shrug off another trip to the graveyard as a vacation at best, the same often can’t be said for your opponents’ creatures. Even normally painful problems like shroud and hexproof can offer only temporary reprieves in some cases.
Part of the key of this deck is knowing just when and what to disrupt: learn the key plays of other decks, what comes down when, the synergies that you should expect, as well as best and worst case scenarios. If you’re fighting Avacyn’s Glory then it never hurts to assume that your opponent has the nut draw of two Champions of the Parish into a Gather the Townsfolk and Honor the Pure. That is a nightmare hand to stare down, but not an unbeatable one if you play smart. And look at it this way, if they don’t have those cards, then all the better for you, right?
Deadwalkers Card-by-card analysis (ordered by cost)
Diregraf Ghoul: 4.0
As a one drop this card competes against Gravecrawler, and while it doesn’t have quite as much utility it’s still a welcomed first turn play, especially if you’re the one going first. Sure, it comes into play tapped, but not many decks are going to have a first turn haste creature anyways, so that barely matters. A 2/2 for one is always nice, and for the “drawback” it’s still well worth including both.
The only reason this card isn’t perfect is because it can’t chump, but if it could it would be incredibly broken in this deck. This 2/1 for one will never be able to block for you, but like a bad cold or overly fond dog your opponent is never going to see the end of. As long as any other zombie is in play on your side of the battlefield this guy pops right back out of the graveyard for a measely one mana. His inclusion in the deck gets downright painful for the other side of the table when you play a Fleshbag Marauder or, even better, a Grave Pact.
Quest for the Gravelord: 2.0
There’s very little doubt that you’ll be triggering the ability of this card more often than not, and a free 5/5 body is nice and might make for some good dissuasion for your foe, but there are other cards competing for the first, second, and third turn drops that will do more for you with greater immediacy. This enchantment can also make for decent mind games, but plenty of decks are capable of dealing with a vanilla 5/5, even one out early.
This will often be a cheap, if somewhat painful, way of getting a key creature your opponent offed back into play. It lacks instant speed so you won’t be pulling any wonderful combat tricks with it, but at the same time it can fetch any creature from any graveyard, so if you just managed to kill a particularly nasty little gem on your opponent’s side, you can easily help yourself to sinister seconds. Plus there’s enough in this deck to mitigate the life cost.
Vampiric Tutor: 4.5
Gee, let me think, one black and two life for a guaranteed topdeck of whatever the hell you want in your library. The only reason this card isn’t a five is because the thing you tutored for doesn’t go immediately into your hand. One thing to note though, be careful of playing this against a Dimir deck, as they do have Thought Scour which can ruin the draw.
Vial of Poison: 2.0
A cute little one time combat trick, but nowhere near cute enough to merit inclusion in most builds. Pass this one over most, if not all of the time, especially when there are plenty of other ways to deal with your adversary’s creatures.
Black Cat: 3.0
What a cute little kitty. But you know what they say, black cats are bad luck, and having one of these on the field will make the other player feel most unlucky indeed. Because killing it forces a random discard this little furball can make early aggression against you something to reconsider. Likewise, it will often go unblocked until the other person has played out what they want to from their hand.
Sort of a strictly worse Gravecrawler, just with the trade off that it pops back into play automatically when you play a land. It can also have haste if the other guy is at 10 life or less. Still, with Gravecrawler in the deck with multiple copies, there’s little to no need for this guy to be in most builds. Another strike against it is that Bloodghast is one of the few creatures in this deck that isn’t actually a zombie, meaning it gets no benefits from any of the synergies built with them in mind.
Butcher Ghoul: 2.5
A 1/1 for two that needs to be offed twice to truly finish the job. It’s not a bad card, but there are a lot that are better. Black Cat or even the wholly generic Walking Corpse would often serve as better second turn plays. Admittedly this card does play nicely with Fleshbag Marauder, but Gravecrawler still plays better.
Doom Blade: 4.0
Okay, so it’s a mana cheaper than murder, but it’s also a dead draw in the mirror match and can’t target a lot of what Dimir puts out either. That being said it’s still more than worth including these in any build because they’re your go to card for dealing with potential early game threats and late game bombs alike. There are cards that will get around this, but as we’ll see, there are other ways of dealing with pests.
You and your opponent both get a creature back. Of course if you play it when they don’t have any in the graveyard then that’s just too bad for them, isn’t it? Exhume can also be used for incredibly risky opening gambits where you cheat a powerful creature into play by playing nothing off the first draw then discarding. However, that’s not recommended considering how much removal is in just about every deck in Duels 14. As it stands, it’s often a cheap early game revival tool, just make sure you know what is in the other graveyard or you may (not) live to regret it.
Playing this might off a couple of humans or goblins, depending, but the fact that there’s only one copy and it’s not an instant means that there’s not really a whole lot of utility behind it. If you include it in your deck you’ll probably just bemoan all the times you wish you could have played it in response to something.
Sign in Blood: 5.0
Two cards for two mana and two life? I’ll sign on the dotted line. These help your hand recover from playing out early, and should be a welcomed draw in almost any situation, much like the Vampiric Tutor mentioned earlier. It is also worth noting that you can use this to finish off opponents in a pinch, especially if they have a trick (like a Dawn Elemental with Pariah on it) but are still at two life or less. Remember kids: damage and life loss are two completely different things in Magic.
Walking Corpse: 2.5
What can I really say? It’s black’s version of Grizzly Bears. A 2/2 for two. Functions as a decent two drop that I’d take over Butcher Ghoul, but most likely after a Black Cat. A completely average card, but one that is a zombie, so it can get some neat tricks thanks to more flavorful helpers elsewhere in the deck. Really, it’s a toss-up with Butcher Ghoul depending on personal preference.
Death Baron: 5.0
The only problems with this guy is that there’s only one of him in the deck, and he also screams “get rid of me as quickly as humanly possible!” to your opponent. As the first of three zombie lords as I call them, Death Baron not only pumps nearly every other creature that this deck can generate, it also gives them all deathtouch, which acts as a huge deterrent to attacking and blocking. Just remember that the bonuses he gives do not apply to himself, so it’s often better to keep him out of the fight itself. He’s pulling enough weight for you already.
Death Cloud: 3.5
Okay, it’s not strictly a 3 cost spell, but that’s the base, so let’s just work from there, shall we? This card is good for cementing an already present lead, or forcing a board reset if things look dire. Of course you’re not going to be getting much work out of this card until you have at least five lands or more. Still, it can function as a good way to end a protracted stalemate or lock in a victory.
Fleshbag Marauder: 4.0
Think of this less as a creature and more like an expensive Innocent Blood that also happens to have a 3/1 body attached to it. Knowing just when to play this guy is more important than just playing him. Always try to make sure that any trades are unfair as possible: for example their lone hexproof creature vs. your Gravecrawler. Gets really nasty when you have a Grave Pact backing you up.
Geralf’s Messenger: 4.0
This card is basically dissuasion in a can. Your opponent isn’t going to want to kill it because it will just come back and cost them another two life, but they also probably don’t want to have it around chump blocking or getting in free attacks either. Playing one of these against decks with Path to Exile may goad them into using one on him, giving a little bit of a breathing room for your more important creatures like Death Baron and Lord of the Undead.
Grim Return: 4.0
A nasty little trick that can get one of your guys back … or one of theirs on your side. Again, the key is knowing just what you what in the given situation, whether it be on your side or theirs. Remember though that the target needs to be relatively freshly dead, so he who hesitates is lost.
Lord of the Undead: 5.0
Another one of your three drop bombs, this Lord pumps your other zombies the same way the Baron does, but instead of giving your guys deathtouch he’s busy bringing them back from the grave. Again, expect this to draw heat the second it hits the field. Well worth running both copies of.
Soul Bleed: 1.5
Another one of, this card simply isn’t worth the effect, considering that the creature you attach it to is still free to attack, block, and use any and all activated abilities it has. You can do so much better than one life loss on their turn, so don’t bother.
Staff of the Death Magus: 1.0
There are so much better, so much funner and crueler ways to gain life in this deck. The fact that this is competing against three drops like the Baron, the Overlord, and Messenger means that this should never, ever be your third turn drop. Simply avoid, this isn’t the artifact you’re looking for.
Abattoir Ghoul: 3.5
Another card that gets nuts with Death Baron in play, by himself he’s still a 3/2 first striker that can gain you some life and serves as a good blocker. The only reason I’m not ranking him a little higher is because there are still better four drops in the deck that will compete with him for your attention.
Consuming Vapors: 4.0
As strange as it is to say, this deck isn’t quite as removal heavy as I would have liked it to be. That being said, this four drop is quite nice in that it gains you life and also effectively serves as a double dip. Quite nasty if your opponent forgets the rebound and tries to cast a lone bomb on their side of the field to recover after this is played.
Endless Ranks of the Dead: 2.0
Zombies + zombies = more zombies. Seems like a solid equation, right? Well, in a more control minded deck this card could work wonders. As it stands though, because Deadwalkers is a more aggressive deck you’re probably going to be trading a lot early on, and without a significant number of creatures on the board to begin with there are much better and much more justifiable fourth turn plays.
Grave Pact: 5.0
The only reason this wasn’t an auto include in the last deck that featured it was because at three black in the casting cost it might be a dead draw in a two colour deck. Here, that isn’t a problem. Turn each combat decision, and nearly every kill spell slung against your army into agonizing choices for the other side of the table, all for the low, low cost of four mana.
Liliana’s Reaver: 4.5
Shame that there’s only one copy of this guy in the deck. Since he’s a deathtouch by himself he’s already a decent play, but the effects that he gets when he manages to land a hit mean that people are probably going to be losing creatures to this guy every turn in an attempt to stop him from actually landing damage. Either way it’s good for you.
Your go to board sweeper, affecting even indestructible creatures when cast with enough swamps on the field.
Tendrils of Corruption: 4.5
Creatures are delicious, more so when they don’t belong to you. This card serves double duty by often getting rid of or finishing off a thorn in your side while also providing a nice boost to your life total. Remember to turn off the assisted targeting in the options so that if things get dire that you can target your own creatures as well, there may be some instances where it’s necessary.
Undead Warchief: 4.0
The last of the zombie lords in this deck, and also arguably the least good. Don’t get me wrong, +2/+1 is a great boost, but the reduction of casting cost doesn’t mean a whole lot in this deckconsidering the rather tight curve that most of it operates on already. While not as good as the Lord or Baron, still worth including at least one copy of. The immediate boost this guy gives can win you a game against an opponent caught tapped out and unprepared to deal with bulkier zombies.
Cruel Revival: 3.0
This card is perhaps a bit expensive, even though it does two jobs at once: getting rid of a creature from their side and getting a zombie back into your hand from the grave. It’s also not completely useless in the mirror match since the resurrection part of it still works (the clauses are separate, not contingent). Makes a decent, if somewhat unspectacular late game play.
Farfog Boneflinger: 1.0
Overcosted and underwhelming. A 2/2 for five mana and a one time -2/-2 for one creature is not worth it.
Veilborn Ghoul: 2.0
Kind of the bigger brother of Gravecrawler and Bloodghast, the problem is that even though he can keep coming back, he’s awfully expensive to keep casting, and like his younger brothers he can’t block. Not really worth including in most builds unless you’re going for a recursion heavy design.
Costly, but also potentially game ending. Corrupt serves as an apt finisher in the deck, and even in the cases it’s not it causes at least a 12 life point difference when flung at an opponent’s skull. You should be opting to use this on players more than creatures, since Tendrils is the better choice for getting rid of the latter for much the same effect and a cheaper price. Still, if you need life badly, nothing is a poor target in some cases.
Grave Titan: 4.0
A big old token-making, deathtouching fatty. In most games by the time this guy hits the field your foe will have gone through most of their removal, and this guy can carve a path pretty easily, not to mention all his little zombies benefit from the effects of the lords, even if he doesn’t. A decent card to keep the pressure on in the late game. The huge benefit to him is that even if they can deal with him, he brought little buddies to the party the second he came into play.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed: 4.5
Another worthy choice for a six drop if you’re going to take one, Mikaeus makes all your other guys even harder to kill, and also gives the finger to human decks, although considering his cost and the speed at which the human heavy deck plays this ability of his may be irrelevant most of the time. Still, the fact that he also has evasion in the form of intimidate means that he can push through and get the final few crucial points of damage.
The other six drop creature, Nightmare serves as the only flier in the deck, and of course only gets bigger and nastier as the game goes on. Still, since he doesn’t provide any other benefit aside from a large airborn body, I’m hesitant to run him over the other two creatures that compete for a six drop in a deck that alright runs a really tight curve.
Zombie Apocalypse: 3.0
This card can make for a nasty late game surprise in a game where a lot of trades have been made. Getting most (if not all) of your creatures back is the real point of this card, although against Avacyn the human hose is nice as well. Trouble is that playing this card will not save you if you’re staring down an army and need to block immediately, since everything resurrected comes into play tapped. Will often just be a “I win more and harder” card, but can still pull its weight in some situations.
Grave Betrayal: 2.0
Another “I win more” card. Playing this and then sweeping with a Mutilate or Death Cloud is probably the daydream scenario for this deck. Of course again the problem is cost. At seven mana, in most games this card is not going to have the impact you want by the time you get to play it, assuming the game is still even going at that point. Just in my assessment, lots of games are decided by this point, if not sooner, and while this could maybe turn things around, I’d rather draw a Corrupt or a Mutilate.
Rise of the Dark Realms: 1.5
At a staggering nine mana in a deck with absolutely no acceleration, if you get a chance to play this then things have likely gone very badly for you in the long run. You’re probably tired of me hearing this by now, but this is yet another “I win more” card, and most games are going to go well enough for someone that you aren’t going to be seeing a chance to play this, making it effectively a dead draw. Too costly, even for a godly effect.
Deadwalkers sample deck build (ordered by cost)
60 Cards, 22 Swamps
- Gravecrawler x 3
- Diregraf Ghoul x 2
- Vampiric Tutor x 1
- Reanimate x 1
- Black Cat x 3
- Walking Corpse x 2
- Doom Blade x 3
- Sign in Blood x 2
- Lord of the Undead x 2
- Geralf’s Messenger x 2
- Death Baron x 1
- Fleshbag Marauder x 2
- Grim Return x 1
- Death Cloud x 1
- Lilana’s Reaver x 1
- Undead Warchief x 1
- Grave Pact x 1
- Tendrils of Corruption x 2
- Mutilate x 1
- Consuming Vapors x 1
- Cruel Revival x 2
- Mikaeus the Unhallowed x 1
- Corrupt x 2
Additional Deadwalkers deck considerations
As you may have noticed this deck runs extremely mana light at only 22 lands. I can justify this by the rather tight curve that it runs, with 17 of the cards running at one or two mana. Drawing a hand with two lands is not as devastatingly bad as it is with other decks, especially since there is acceleration with both Sign in Blood and Vampiric Tutor. Still, dropping a card or two to bring the land count up to 24 if you’re uncomfortable is entirely feasible.
The Walking Corpses are completely interchangeable with Butcher Ghouls, I just feel that the undying isn’t worth it. If you find yourself coming up against a lot of burn though then the switch is probably a lot more appealing. If you want to get REALLY aggressive, then dropping the Reanimate and Cruel Revival will let you add the Butcher Ghouls in too for even more early beats, at the cost of a little utility.
Geralf’s Messengers are hell with a lot of decks to deal with, especially burn, which usually can’t afford to keep taking the life hits from him coming into play and reviving, forcing them to use their burning exile effects on him rather than more important cards. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to protect your zombie lords, but there is a decent bit of revival in the deck, so make the most of it.
Mikaeus goes in over Grave Titan because his passive ability is a massive benefit to your side, allowing you to survive a wipe … even if you’re the one that induced it. Add to that his evasion and zombie status (meaning he can get the buffs and get fetched back by the Lord of the Undead), and you have a late game card that opponents with loathe to see hit the field. However, Grave Titan is often just as viable of an endgame drop, so taking either – or even both, depending on the kind of deck you’re running – isn’t something that is too off the norm.
Death Cloud and Corrupt can serve as finishers, but don’t underestimate the power of a two or even one mana Death Cloud depending on how the board looks. Remember, you can plan around losing some permanents, but your foe generally won’t know what’s coming until too late.
As with any aggro deck, it’s important to keep the pressure on, but not overextend either. Playing both Lords of the Undead may be tempting, but can often be a costly move. Take stock of how the other person is doing as well, disrupt early and often, and know what the key components of the other decks often are.
Again, this is a sample build. It’s entirely possible to go in a completely different direction with this deck. If you have any suggestions, think I’m out of my mind for including or not including certain cards, or just feel like sharing builds of your own and stories of experiences you’ve had with this deck, then feel free to leave a comment.