Hello all, and welcome to the first of my many Pioneer brews of the month. The format of Pioneer is wildly open and the top decks are always shifting, but sometimes you need something spicy for your local group or FNM–well, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Strange, weird, and yet synergistic decks await in this series, and I’m going to show everyone that Pioneer is defined by more than its top tier. So strap in as we dig through the newest Innistrad sets and look at Zombie Rally.
Oops All Zombies
This is an explosive aggro deck that plans to play the game long after the first Supreme Verdict. The first thing to really pay attention to is the one-drops; with twelve possible turn-one plays, it really should be starting just as fast as the mono-red and 8-elf decks of the format. Stitcher’s Supplier will fill the yard for later reach shenanigans, but Cryptbreaker and Champion of the Perished are really going to apply pressure either through card advantage or damage. In particular, hands that open with Champion get very bad for our opponents very fast, as this one-drop scales quickly out of Shock range and battles in for early damage. It’s important to play the first three to five turns of this deck as aggressively as possible, just swinging and building as big of a board as possible. As you’ll see later, there is no such thing as over-committing. For two-drops, we move on to the bread and butter of this deck– a suite of creatures that will drain or lose our opponents one life for every creature we play. Maximizing the chip damage is tantamount to the deck’s game plan, so this is one of the few times I might recommend playing creature pre-combat. The deck’s main goal is to try to get its opponent down to the 8-12 life range so it can cast Rally the Ancestors for game, so start swinging. Tainted Adversary is another great two-drop that players shouldn’t be afraid to drop on-curve. The extra zombies are nice in the late game, but we are more than happy with pure beef on board for turns 2 or 3. Our last two-drop will look like a weak pick, but Undead Butler is the glue that holds this plan together. As it enters the battlefield it mills three to fill the yard, and on death it may be exiled to get any creature out of the yard. Now, depending on how close things are to a mass reanimate we can either use this refined zombie’s death to pick up a higher value aggro card, or just let him die to reanimate for the game winning Rally later on. Finally, we come to our lonely three-drops: two copies each of Murderous Rider and Lord of the Accursed. The Rider gives the deck some interaction as well as a lifelinking body, and the Lords give an extra bump of power to the initial aggro game plan, and evasion to the team if he sticks around. Rounding off the decklist, I included two copies of Dark Salvation. I want to stress that this deck generally wants to be making zombies with Salvation as often as possible, but it can be used to kill a Thing in the Ice or a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet for one-mana in a pinch. More often than not though, this reads as a three-mana+ spell. And given the right circumstances, all the triggers this can make might be enough to finish off an opponent out right.
A Rally Good Time
Now, I’ve talked a lot about a pretty deece aggro deck but where’s the real spice, the excitement, the spectacle? I’m glad you asked, because I’m bringing four copies of Rally the Ancestors. As long as there are two drainers and four other zombies in the yard, any opponent at ten life or less is as good as dead for as little as four mana! Oh, and did I mention that’s at instant speed? Of course, damage will intensify with more drainers and bigger yards but since the deck doesn’t have a haste enabler you’ll need to do zombie math in your head to see if any given rally is lethal. The deck also has two Rallies at home with Return to the Ranks, which can be better than Rally at times allowing us to keep the creatures, but sorcery speed and needing to be cast for more than four to finish off opponents this card is better used to rebuild while still in aggro mode. Now, it’s important to note that if a single Rally can’t kill an opponent, it’s best saved for the opponent’s end step. This will allow cryptbreaker to be used before the exile trigger resolves during the next upkeep, and maybe even sneak in a second rally that can make use of any drainers still in play.
Not So Peaceful Rest
Onto the sideboard, which is where things get strange. The only major downside to this super exciting and flashy deck is that it has to fight against all the graveyard hate in the multiverse. It plays fracture in the sideboard as a two of to deal with rest in peace and leyline of the void, or any other Planeswalkers we run into, and is often very good against control. We also want some hand denial so three Thoughtseize in the board, though there’s only one creature we really ever want to hit, Graveyard Tresspasser. So if you’re worried about the loss of life or are playing on a budget, Duress makes a fine alternative. Now playing white means we have access to some great hate cards of our own, so two Deafening Silence is going to be great against Phoenix. Three copies of Ray of Enfeeblement and one copy of March of Wretched Sorrow will keep us safe with instant speed answers for Winota or various rat gangsters. Now the last few slots were going to play two Fell Stingers and two more Lord of the Accursed so we can board into a more honest aggro deck against decks that might be packing more yard hate than we want to think about.
All in all, this highly aggressive deck could be what you need to break into pioneer and show off your all in gameplay style. This deck has no breaks, swings for the fences, and empties its hand trusting that Rally will get you there in the end. Bring this deck to fnm if you like tribal aggro decks, want to use your graveyard as a resource, love keeping track of lots of triggers, and enjoy winning games on turn five despite a board wipe. I hope you have a ton of fun jamming whatever deck you like best and keep playing as much pioneer as you can as safely as possible.