Planechase: Zombie Empire Review (Part 1 of 2)
It’s been awhile since we reviewed a deck in the format of playtest-then-analyse, but if ever there was a good candidate for a revisit of that model, it’s Zombie Empire on a nice, tranquil Friday night (this was written on 8/20). Having played the deck before, it holds few surprises but still can be a lot of fun to play, and to give it a foil Sam picked up Elemental Thunder in her comfortable colours of Green and Red.
On the play, Sam kicks things off with a Shivan Oasis before passing, and I as expected drop a Swamp. The first play of the game goes to Sam’s Fertile Ground, which she casts upon her Oasis for a nice little shot of ramping. I repeat my turn 1 play.
Things kick off in the third, as Sam gets out a Rockslide Elemental, a 1/1 for now but with the promise of getting bigger. I make an investment in my future, passing up playing a creature for Phyrexian Arena. Although I’ll take damage for it every round (and I’ve died to it before), getting the card advantage out this early massively skews the game in my favour.
Sam swings in for one with the Elemental as her main turn 4 play, then passes. I finally get out a creature in the form of a Phyrexian Ghoul, who took the back-bench to the Arena. Sam battles back with some card advantage of her own: Browbeat. Mindful of my Arena, I opt to let her draw three. She plays a Rampant Growth to pad out her land (neither of us have missed a drop), then ends her turn.
Then the game is kicked into high gear. Ratcheting up the pressure, I lay a Leechridden Swamp and Death Baron, then swing in for 3 with my buffed Ghoul, bringing us even at 17. Sam bounces back with a solid turn of her own when she summons a Flamekin Harbinger and the annoying Taurean Mauler. My turn 6 sees the Ascendant Evincar enter the battlefield, killing Sam’s Rockslide Elemental and Harbinger, then swinging in for 7 to take her to 10. Sam battles back with an 8-point Savage Twister to clear the board good and proper, but it earns her little respite. I cast Beacon of Unrest on the Ascendent Evincar, then Dark Ritual out a Cadaverous Knight. Sam slays poor Crovax (the Evincar) with Pyrotechnics (throwing a point my way in the process), but she’s very nearly spent.
I keep the boot on her back on turn 8, casting a Dregscape Zombie, a Shepherd of Rot and Syphon Mind, causing her to discard her last card in hand (Blaze). I send in the Knight for 2, taking her to 8. She draws and plays a Bogardan Firefiend to cling to life, but I have a ton of mana and a Profane Command. I cast it for 7 (hitting her for damage and returning the Death Baron to play), then tap the Shepherd of Rot to kill her without the messiness of combat.
Another Shivan Oasis followed by Fertile Ground, and Sam is off and running. My hand is stocked with fat but devastatingly playable if I can hit my fourth land drop in time, so I keep it and lead off with a Swamp and then a Shepherd of Rot. She gets a turn-3 Taurean Mauler on-line, and I have a decision to make. Do I cast my Innocent Blood now, and take care of the threat, or wait until the Grave Pact in my hand is up? Though I’d more or less made the decision already when I opted to play the Shepherd, I briefly think it over then decide to risk it, letting the Mauler live. Sam regroups on turn 4, putting a Gruul Turf into play followed by a Rockslide Elemental (followed by an end-of-turn ping from the Shepherd of Rot). To keep her cautious, I reply with a Phyrexian Ghoul. I missed my turn-3 land drop, though, and am grateful to play one now after drawing it.
Sam develops her board positon further with a Flamekin Harbinger on turn 5, swinging in for 3 with the Mauler. At the end of her turn, I tap my Shepherd for 2 damage, then untap and draw. A Swamp, huzzah! I play it, then tap out for the Grave Pact as the tide turns in my favour.
Turn 6 sees Sam lay down a Forgotten Ancient, then passes (with my Shepherd tagging her again at the end of her turn). After swinging in for 2 with the Ghoul, I play a Cadaverous Knight followed by an Innocent Blood. With another Knight in hand I have no hesitation about sacrificing this one, which triggers the Pact. Dismayed, Sam sends off her Flamekin and Rockslide Elementals.
Looking to regain ground, Sam again hits me with Browbeat, and again I calculate the three cards as the lesser of two evils. Deja vu all over again, Sam follows it up with Rampant Growth and passes. The Shepherd collects his due, then I untap and bring an Undead Warchief on-line. Waiting to attack, I pass, and Sam deploys a Mask of Memory onto the Ancient and somewhat foolishly swings in. I chump block with the Shepherd, tapping him for one more nibble on the way out, taking Sam down to 8. Killing my Shepherd, though, triggers the Grave Pact, and her Mauler heads for the dirtnap as well.
With no blockers, Sam’s wide open and I oblige for six, then casting Hideous End on her last remaining critter. End’s 2 damage takes the game.
Once more Sam is off to a promising start. She begins with a turn-1 Flamekin Harbinger, then drops a Gruul Turf on turn 2 and that damnable Taurean Mauler the turn after that. Me, I’ve played three Swamps and not one card more. Turn 4 sees Sam drop a Terramorphic Expanse, then swing in with the Mauler who meets a Hideous End. The Harbinger’s gotten some nicks in, but the biggest threat has been neutralised.
Momentum begins to shift when I untap for turn 4, playing a Syphon Mind (snaring Sam’s Search for Tomorrow). She manages only the Mask of Memory on turn 5 before passing, and pays for her intertia when my Noxious Ghoul shambles onto the field, killing the Harbinger in the process.
Desperate for a body, Sam goes fishing with Beast Hunt on turn 6, but comes up empty. I swing in for 3 with the Ghoul, then bring out Nefashu. Sam counters with the 5/5 Rumbling Slum, but it’s immediately dispatched the turn following with a 7-point Dark Ritual-fueled Profane Command, which also chops her down to 8 life. Nefashu and the Ghoul swing in for lethal.
Not surprisingly, from these initial observations I’d say that the deck definitely works- a few classically Black elements (damage, removal and some rather sexy Enchantments) paired with a Tribal theme. Join us in two days when we take the deck apart to the last card and see whether tonight’s results were a fluke, or if the deck is a consistent performer.