Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are the Best Zombies in Magic?
Fittingly scattered into the deathly and decaying black faction, Magic's zombie creatures reward players for stocking their graveyard with unearth abilities, reviving your defeated warriors. They also quickly stock your discard pile by milling cards, and several gain strength based on the number of zombies you control.
With swarming, token generation, lifedrain, and other tricks up their rotten sleeves, zombies make for entertaining decks that occasionally dip into colors beyond black. But with hundreds of vengeful undead, which infected reign supreme? Factoring in staples from a variety of formats, these are the ten strongest zombie creatures in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 6
Demanding six mana, Mikaeus is one of the most expensive zombies—but also one of the strongest. His 5/5 power and toughness are further supported by intimidate, meaning only artifact and black creatures can block him. Plus, his ability immediately destroys any human that inflicts damage to you (whether combat or effect), punishing one of the largest subtypes in the game.
Mikaeus also boosts the stats of other non-humans you control by +1/+1, and they receive the undying trait, resurrecting them with a +1/+1 counter if they die while they don't have any +1/+1 counters. Basically, Mikaeus is a bulky but powerful, hard to block tank who grants your non-humans a free revival, and his legendary status makes him available as a monoblack commander in EDH.
9. Lord of the Accursed
For just three mana (only one of which needs to be black), Lord of the Accursed wields a decent 2/3 stats, and he buffs your other zombies by +1/+1. Plus, he can spend two mana and tap to give your zombies menace for the turn, meaning they can only be blocked by two or more creatures. This can achieve victory if you've been diligently swarming, as your opponent simply may not possess enough blockers to assign two to every undead.
Alternative three-cost zombie-boosters include "Death Baron" and "Lord of the Undead."
8. Noxious Ghoul
Noxious Ghoul's 3/3 stats are disappointing for his hefty chunk of five mana, but when he or another zombie enters the field, non-zombies get -1/-1 for the rest of the turn. With some token or graveyard swarming, this can turn Ghoul into a potent field wipe.
Since Ghoul's effect neither targets nor destroys, even units with protection from black and indestructible will suffer his decrease. Thus, if you collect an army of undead, there's little your opponent can do to thwart his removal.
7. Diregraf Ghoul
Diregraf's downside is that she enters the field tapped, but without haste, creatures won't be able to attack on their summoning turn anyway, making Ghoul an excellent first-turn play. From there, you've got a 2/2 body to throw at or defend against threats, a sizable monster in the early game.
It's as simple as that; for inexpensive but powerful decayed flesh to begin your rampage, look no farther than this ghoulish creature.
6. Bladewing the Risen
Combining the black swamps with red mountains yields this legendary zombie/dragon blend who admittedly supports his dragon kin more than his zombie. At first glance, Bladewing seems unimpressive, requiring seven mana yet only arriving as a 4/4 with flying and a mediocre trait that spends two mana to temporarily ramp your dragons by +1/+1.
However, Bladewing is actually one of the strongest dragons in the game, as when he enters, you can return a dragon from your graveyard to the field for free! Now you've got both an aerial 4/4 beatstick with two subtype synergies and whatever fierce tyrant you resurrect.
5. Balthor the Defiled
Legendary Balthor needs four mana for his casting, and he arrives as a puny 2/2, but this zombie dwarf provides two helpful boosts. First, he increases your minions by +1/+1. Admittedly, minions are a fairly rare type; as of this writing, there's only about 40 in the entire game, but it's still a helpful boost since most belong to the black faction.
Still, we're really after Balthor's mana trait. By spending three black resources, you can (at instant speed) exile Balthor to revive all black and red creatures from the graveyards. If you're unlucky, this might grant your opponent some free units too, but either way, you should come out ahead if you've been tending your graveyard with proper zombie supports. Three mana (plus his initial four) is an excellent deal for 5+ rejuvenated creatures ready to wreak havoc.
4. Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Asphodel costs a fair chunk of mana, so he's another excellent candidate for cheap graveyard revivals. 2/4 isn't great on a five-cost creature, but at least his toughness can survive a "Lightning Bolt," and Asphodel wields an excellent entrance effect: when he joins the battle, you take life from each opponent (and add it to your own) equal to your devotion to black.
Devotion is measured by adding the number of black symbols in mana costs of permanents you control; counting Asphodel's, you'll bear at least two, but with your other units, can easily exceed seven or more. Cranking out that much damage while recovering health can really turn the tide of a match, especially in multiplayer, where you'll sap life from every opponent.
3. Geralf's Messenger
Messenger's three black symbols make him hard to mesh with multicolor decks, but also greatly increase your black devotion for Asphodel's effect. In fact, Messenger serves as a sort of cheaper 1v1 Asphodel specialist. 3/2 is decent for his cost, and although Messenger enters the field tapped, he makes a target opponent lose two life.
Additionally, Messenger bears undying, reviving himself with a +1/+1 counter when he dies without on. Not only does this grant a powerful 4/3 beatstick, but it also reactivates the lifedrain ignition, again hitting an opponent for two life!
Cryptbreaker bears the typically low 1/1 stats of a single cost creature, but his mana ability does exactly what you need zombies to do: stock your graveyard and swarm. By tapping, spending two mana, and discarding a card, you create a 2/2 zombie token.
Normally, discarding is a disadvantage, but it's a quick way for zombies to fill your graveyard, and the token creature will stave off attacks in the meantime. Cryptbreaker also lets you tap three of your untapped zombies and lose a life to draw a card, adeptly replenishing your depleted hand.
Gravecrawler offers two great benefits for one small price. He's one of the stronger single-cost units in the game, bearing a sweet 2/1 power and toughness. Unfortunately, Gravecrawler can't block, but what he can do is be cast from the graveyard as long as you control a zombie!
Death is no obstacle for this undead, giving you an excellent way to spend leftover mana and continuously refield a unit to sacrifice with other abilities. Gravecrawler has long been a staple in my blacks zombie decks and won me several games with his ongoing revivals; fortunately, he's available for less than nine dollars!
How to Support Zombies in Magic
In addition to their putrid monsters, zombies enjoy a heap of supports, rounding out their structure. Enchantment "Endless Ranks of the Dead" creates zombie tokens each turn based on how many you control (comboing with itself), while "Call to the Grave" forces players to continuously sacrifice non-zombie creatures. "Grave Pact" makes opponent forfeit a creature when one of yours dies, and if you mix blue into your deck, "Rooftop Storm" (yet another enchantment) casts zombies for free.
Of course, watch out for graveyard-exiles like "Bojuka Bog," which can really disrupt your revival capabilities. Zombies remain a fun and competitive theme that will undoubtedly further develop in future sets, but for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of undead soldiers, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
mtg addict on September 08, 2019:
i like gravecrawler the best