I am now back from Grand Prix Minneapolis, and while I couldn’t quite get to the 13-2 mark that is the realistic goal for everyone entering the tournament, I’m fairly happy with how I play and the result, despite the fact that I could’ve had much more. In the end, I finished 10-5, despite losing my last 2 rounds and losing a Pro Point in each of the last two rounds didn’t feel great, but starting off the season with 1 point isn’t the worst outcome.

First of all, let’s look at the decklist I registered in Minneapolis.

Mono-Black Zombies by Jonah Gaynor at GP Minneapolis – 10-5

Creatures (20)
4 Cryptbreaker
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Relentless Dead
4 Diregraf Colossus
4 Lord of the Accursed

Non-Creature Spells (15)
3 Fatal Push
4 Grasp of Darkness
4 Dark Salvation
4 Liliana’s Mastery

Lands (25)
4 Ifnir Deadlands
20 Swamp
1 Westvale Abbey

Sideboard (15)
1 Fatal Push
2 Transgress the Mind
1 Murder
2 Dispossess
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Never // Return
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Aethersphere Harvester
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

Let’s talk about some of the more interesting choices in this deck. I can’t entirely speak to the testing process that ended up at this list, as Abe Corrigan (former Spellsnare writer who finished 25th with the same list) did most of the leg work with the list, but I can definitely speak to why certain choices were made and how they impacted my tournament.

25 lands, only 1 colorless

I was initially a little turned off by playing an additional land, as Zombies on its surface looks like a deck that struggles when it floods. However, I was definitely very wrong about this. You lose far more games when you don’t hit lands 3-5 than when you draw lands 6-8. Cards like Cryptbreaker and Dark Salvation take advantage of extra mana and actively encourage you have lands in play to keep the engine going. Because of this, adding a 25th land reduced the amount of games that we would lose to mana screw.

Moving to only 1 colorless land, and specifically Westvale Abbey, was something I was very on board with. I despise greedy manabases, and I was (honestly) close to cutting the Abbey for another Swamp. The consistency the deck offers is one of the big appeals to it, and having multiple lands in your deck that can’t cast 2 mana cards like Grasp of Darkness or Relentless Dead makes your deck very inconsistent, causing you to mulligan otherwise fantastic hands. I did win a game or two throughout the tournament with Westvale Abbey, however, so I was happy that I did have it, but wouldn’t add another colorless source. I could see Scavenger Grounds being very important in the coming weeks, as the U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck picks up a little steam, but I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it.

4 mainboard Liliana’s Mastery, 0 mainboard Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was an addition to Zombies at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, and testing was started from that point. However, Kalitas quickly lost its mainboard slot after it died time and time again to Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. That being said, it was still a powerful option in the Ramunap Red matchup on the play, as well as a valuable creature against B/G Constrictor, so it stayed in the board.

On the flip side, Liliana’s Mastery impressed time and time again. We quickly learned that it was your best mainboard card in the mirror, your best card against B/G Constrictor, and one of your best cards (probably 2nd or 3rd) against Ramunap Red. We thought that these were going to be the big three decks at the GP, so after starting with 2 Mastery in the mainbaord, we went to 3, and then quickly to the full 4 mainboard. This was a decision that felt great during testing and at the GP. One Mastery stabilizes the board or puts you ahead, and two is nearly unbeatable.

Murder

I’m only slightly kidding when I say that Murder was the best card in my sideboard this weekend. In most formats, Murder would be a pretty mediocre removal option, but it just happens to be perfectly situated in this format. Glorybringer, Aethersphere Harvester, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship are all huge problems for this deck, and Murder cleanly answers each of them, and importantly answers Glorybringer before it can attack. All three of these cards cannot be answered by Never // Return, which makes Murder the better option in most matchups.

The Tournament

The tournament started off very well for me. I started off 5-0 and was called for a feature match against Jarvis Yu. We were the backup match, and it turned out to be a Mono-Black Zombies mirror. Game 1 I kept a greedy hand that didn’t get there, and was made even worse by Jarvis’s mainboard copy of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. I won game 2 rather handily, which set up a deciding game 3. Unfortunately, a 6-0 start wasn’t on the cards for me, and I lost. Another loss the following round to the mirror left me at 5-2, and needing a crazy string of results to get the top 8 or at least qualify for the Pro Tour. I won my next two and entered day 2 at 7-2.

Day 2 started off well, as I won game 1 in the Zombies mirror, but lost the next two, killing off the Pro Tour dream. All three of my losses were to the mirror (there’s a theme here). While it was disappointing to officially be dead for top 8 and a Pro Tour invite, a good few Pro Points and some cash was still on the line. I won my next three, putting me at 10-3. At this point, I was in 44th (if memory serves), meaning that one win in my next two would guarantee me minimum cash and two wins would guarantee me top 32, and potentially top 16 if I was lucky on breakers.

 

I sat down in round 14 against Rob Pisano who I knew was also playing Mono-Black Zombies and promptly won a very one-sided game 1. We then played a very tightly contested game 2, where Rob barely edged it, and then he won a one-sided game 3, where two copies of Liliana’s Mastery and a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship closed the game out quickly. I was now 10-4, with all 4 losses coming in the mirror.

I would also lose the final round, missing out on cash and yet another Pro Point. However, somewhat fortunately it wasn’t yet another loss to the mirror. Instead, I lost to Ramunap Red, which contained my only game losses to the red aggro deck in the tournament.

Here were my records against the important decks:

Zombies: 1-4 (5-8 in games)

Ramunap Red: 3-1 (7-2 in games)

B/G Constrictor: 1-0 (2-0 in games)

U/R Control: 2-0 (4-0 in games)

While it was a disappointment to not win my last two rounds and pick up 3 valuable Pro Points during the first weekend of the year, there are a lot of positives that I can take from the weekend. The deck was great and I’m sure it was the right deck to play, and I think we had almost close to the best possible 75. It’s a big disappointment to go 1-4 in the mirror, but I don’t think I can be too upset about it. The matchup is incredibly draw dependent, and there’s a ceiling of play skill in the mirror that’s fairly low. I tested the matchup tons before the event, and the last 20 or so games all felt like I was going through the motions, and not learning much more. We equipped our deck to be rather strong in the mirror, but the nature of the matchup left me feeling helpless at times. Here is the list I would play going forward (maybe in a few weeks at GP Denver):

Mono-Black Zombies by Jonah Gaynor

Creatures (20)
4 Cryptbreaker
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Relentless Dead
4 Diregraf Colossus
4 Lord of the Accursed

Non-Creature Spells (15)
3 Fatal Push
4 Grasp of Darkness
4 Dark Salvation
4 Liliana’s Mastery

Lands (25)
4 Ifnir Deadlands
20 Swamp
1 Westvale Abbey

Sideboard (15)
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Murder
2 Dispossess
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Never // Return
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

For yet more ways to beat Ramunap Red, read this article from Roman Fusco, where he analyzes the various ways of battling against the most successful deck from Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.

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