Before we start, a moment of silence for our dear banned friend Felidar Gua…Just kidding! I couldn’t even finish typing that with a straight face.  Anyways, now that cat combo is gone we have a whole new interesting standard world to explore and with Amonkhet joining the fray we have a ton of new toys to try out to go along with retrying some of the old ones.  With so many people trying out control lists with Pull From Tomorrow, Censor, and Commit // Memory (myself included) I knew I wanted to play something that could fight through counter magic and Torrential Gearhulks.  My first try was blue-black zombies with maindeck Drake Haven but after some testing it felt that Haven was a win-more.  At 2AM before the first Standard PPTQ of the season, I asked “why even play blue if not for Drake Haven?” and decided to audible.  I like the power of zombies vs control, and knowing that I decided to revisit a deck I liked quite a bit when Kaladesh came out: black red zombies.

When Amonkhet was fully spoiled, I was a bit confused.  All the talk was about Gideon, Nissa, As Foretold, and Rhonas.  It made sense of course, as all of those seemed like very powerful cards, but my favorite card was a little bit more angry: Hazoret, the Fervent.  Hazoret is the only god(dess) whose requirement is simply to play magic and discarding cards for value felt like it was a natural fit.  Here’s what I ended up playing:

4 Haunted Dead
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Cryptbreaker
4 Dread Wanderer
2 Bloodrage Brawler
3 Hazoret, the Fervent
3 Voldaren Pariah
3 Scrapheap Scrounger
3 Lightning Axe
4 Fiery Temper
2 Cut // Ribbons
Sinister Concoction
8 Swamp
3 Mountain
4 Smoldering Marsh
4 Foreboding Ruins
4 Canyon Slough

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Fatal Push
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Distended Mindbender
1 Never // Return
1 Key to the City
1 Release the Gremlins
1 Scarab Feast
1 Magma Spray

Not the most original concept, but definitely one that’s tried and true.  Zombies never really took over standard but they’ve made splashes before and this felt like a good format to give it another whirl, especially with control looking so popular.  The sideboard is a bit of a hodgepodge of things: some things that are good vs Mardu, things that are good vs Control, and things that are good vs graveyard based decks.  Because the metagame will be changing at breakneck speed for the next few weeks, I’m not going to go into the sideboard in a lot of detail other than to note that Scarab Feast was absolutely devastating vs blue/red zombies and I boarded in Distended Mindbender in literally every match except vs a super aggro white/red exert plus Always Watching humans deck.

Dread Wanderer was insane in every game I played it.  Normally, zombie decks are semi-gated from their plan because they need to discard multiple cards to bring zombies back but Wanderer gives you a card-free recursion creature that provides a huge amount of overlap for your all game plans by being both a Prized Amalgam enabler as well as a card you can discard for value.  Having the ability to recur Amalgams on the single card turns is a huge boon to the zombie strategy even if it is at sorcery speed.  Scrapheap Scrounger has traditionally filled that role but the cost of eating through the graveyard was one I found coming up more frequently than I expected.  With Magma Spray having a strong presence it can be difficult to maintain enough creatures that revive themselves and having eleven ways to recur Prized Amalgam often means that the opponent’s Magma Sprays are overworked.

Hazoret didn’t come down all that often for me, but when it did it was a powerhouse.  Hitting for five haste is a huge chunk of damage out of nowhere and the ability to turn extra lands into damage is nothing to sneeze at.  Being a discard outlet is also quite valuable even if it’s not one you activate all that often.  The price of activating Hazoret is simply playing the game of magic and when you’re discarding so many other cards already as your primary gameplan, it’s rare that she won’t be able to attack.  I never had a situation where I couldn’t attack with Hazoret if I wanted to.

I didn’t get much of a chance to play with Cut // Ribbons, but I like the card a lot and I felt like it has to be good.  I did get to burn someone out with it once but I suspect it might be better as Fatal Push if Heart of Kiran starts taking over.

Bloodrage Brawler was a last second addition and took the place of Key To the City and the 4th Scrapheap Scrounger in the maindeck.  I found myself wanting a few more ways to get Haunted Dead into the graveyard and being a midgame madness enabler came up more than once, allowing me to play multiple creatures on turn 5.  In addition, it’s a beatstick that laughs disdainfully at public enemy #1, Magma Spray.  Getting in for 4 from turn 3 on adds up quickly and I would consider adding another.

Playing standard right now is a bit of a scramble as people search for the best decks and this deck felt like a great middle ground: solid core, good synergies, coherent gameplan, hard to disrupt, and solid vs control and aggro.  I would strongly recommend giving this to anyone looking for something solid and fun for their local PPTQ or FNM in the new, feline-free standard.