Rancorous Zombies

With the entirety of Magic 2013 revealed, it's time to buckle down and brew up some new decks. One card that's been catching everyone's eye is Rancor, a reprint of one of the most powerful Auras of all time. Although there's been much discussion regarding its strength with Strangleroot Geist, my mind went in a different direction.

Historically, Rancor has been at its most powerful in a deck that played a large number of 1-drops, many with more than 1 power. Playing Wild Dogs on turn one, then putting a Rancor on it and swinging for 4 on turn two was an easy way to start winning the game very quickly. Although green doesn't have any 2-power 1-drops in Standard at the moment, black has two of them in Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler. Here's the deck I built to take advantage of this:

The Creatures

Gravecrawler
Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler both have the ability to attack for 4 on the second turn if you have Rancor. Even if you don't, they'll still start beating down faster than most other decks. Gravecrawler can also crawl its way out of the graveyard if you have another Zombie, ready to help push through some more damage.

Quirion Dryad is another staple from days gone by. Since the Dryad and Rancor are the only spells in the deck that won't put a +1/+1 counter on it, it will usually gain at least 1 counter a turn until either you run out of spells or your opponent runs out of life. Things become even worse for your opponent if you have a Gravecrawler, forcing the opponent to either take 2 damage from it every turn or block and allow you to cast it from your graveyard, putting another counter on your Dryad.

Gloom Surgeon has been portrayed as a useless junk rare since it was released, but with a Rancor on it, it becomes something more. Suddenly, your opponent can't just block with a 3-toughness creature and shut it down. Gloom Surgeon's ability prevents your opponent from trading with it, and Rancor makes chump-blocking a very bad idea. Suddenly, that nonthreatening Goblin Piker demands the use of a removal spell, lest the 4 damage per turn bring about your opponent's demise. If your opponent does have a way to kill it, the Rancor will come back to your hand, ready to be used on another creatures, and if he doesn't, he probably won't live to worry about it too much longer.

Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Nighthawk is very good under normal circumstances. It's evasive, it gains life to help you win races, and it can trade with almost any creature. With a Rancor on it, all of those abilities are multiplied. Flying lets you push through 4 damage per turn, and lifelink makes it almost impossible for the opponent to race you. If he throws a blocker in front of it to try to stop the bleeding, you can kill it with only 1 damage, trampling over for the other 3.

Glissa, the Traitor is an absurdly efficient creature, but her awkward mana cost has held her back in the past. Since we're already playing black and green, that won't be a problem, and as a reward, we get not only a 3/3 for 3 mana, but one with both first strike and deathtouch, allowing her to win in almost any combat scenario. When enchanted with Rancor, Glissa becomes an almost unstoppable threat. Any creature your opponent throws in front of her will not only die before it gets a chance to deal damage, it will only stop a single point of damage from going through. Since blocking is a losing proposition, your opponent will be taking 5 damage each turn. That gives him only four turns to find a removal spell or die. As an additional bonus, Glissa is a Zombie now, helping you be able to bring Gravecrawler back from the dead when you need to.

The Spells

Vile Rebirth
Vile Rebirth is essentially another 2-power creature for 1 mana, although you'll almost never be able to cast it on the first turn. On the second or third turns, however, it's still very strong, allowing you to play a spell on your turn, then add pressure to the board at instant speed when your opponent has made his move. It's also excellent a fighting Unburial Rites, and it can even be used to deprive your opponent of a Spirit token from Moorland Haunt.

Tragic Slip and Go for the Throat are the removal spells I've chosen for the deck. Tragic Slip is excellent at dealing with the wide array of 1-toughness creatures in the format. Among other things, it kills Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Avacyn's Pilgrim. Later in the game, you can take advantage of its morbid ability to kill almost anything. Go for the Throat trades the cheaper mana cost for reliability. It can kill whatever you need to kill, whenever you need to kill it, without having to jump through any hoops along the way.

I believe I've said enough about Rancor already. It turns any creature into a major threat instantly, and it makes already good creatures even better. It's an amazing and powerful card, and it's sure to see extensive play in Standard throughout its career.

The Sideboard

Naturalize helps to deal with this deck's rather glaring weakness to Sword of Feast and Famine. Against decks that play it, this is often a lot like Go for the Throat. It deals with the largest threat in the opponent’s deck at instant speed for only 2 mana. Since it also gets rid of enchantments, it can be used to pull your things out from under Oblivion Rings or to severely hamper any token decks you might come across.

Strangleroot Geist
Strangleroot Geist didn't make the main deck due to the restrictive {G}{G} casting cost. However, against control decks, it continues to be good well into the late game, allowing the card to be effective even if it takes until the sixth turn or so to make it to that second green mana.

Deathmark is a very efficient way to deal with a large number of threats, from Restoration Angel to Primeval Titan to almost every creature in Naya Pod. Since this deck wants to be playing a lot of spells, a difference of 1 mana can mean a lot. Against decks playing a large number of mana dorks, having six ways to kill one on your first turn makes things much easier for you.

Tribute to Hunger kills hexproof creatures such as Geist of Saint Traft and Dungrove Elder fairly effectively, and it even gains you a bit of life at the same time. Although you may have to use another removal spell or some odd blocks to make sure that the opponent can't just sacrifice another creature instead, it's often worth it, as these creatures are capable of dealing more damage than any other card in their respective decks.

Nihil Spellbomb is a bit of extra graveyard hate to help with the increasing popularity of Solar Flare decks. Not only does it replace itself, but with Glissa, the Traitor, it can actually end up drawing you quite a few cards in the long run.

Playtesting

Solar Flare – Game 1

I lost the roll and kept a hand of two Swamps, Diregraf Ghoul, Gravecrawler, Gloom Surgeon, Vile Rebirth, and Rancor. My opponent led with a Drowned Catacomb and passed the turn. I drew a Forest, played my Swamp, and cast Diregraf Ghoul. I ended my turn.

Gloom Surgeon
My opponent played a Seachrome Coast and passed the turn. I drew Vampire Nighthawk, played my Forest, and attacked for 2. My opponent took the damage, and I cast Gloom Surgeon before passing the turn.

My opponent played a Ghost Quarter and passed the turn. I drew Diregraf Ghoul and attacked for 4. I then cast Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler and ended my turn. My opponent cast Forbidden Alchemy during my end step, ditching three lands.

On his turn, he cast Ponder, keeping the three. He played a land, cast Ratchet Bomb, and passed the turn. I drew Quirion Dryad and cast Rancor on my Gloom Surgeon. I dropped my opponent to 4 and passed the turn. He ticked Ratchet Bomb up to 1 counter during my end step.

On his turn, he blew the Ratchet Bomb, killing everything but Gloom Surgeon and putting the Rancor back in my hand. He then cast Liliana of the Veil and forced me to sacrifice my last creature. He passed the turn. I cast Vile Rebirth during his end step, exiling the Gloom Surgeon from my graveyard and making a 2/2 Zombie. My opponent conceded.

Sideboarding:
−3 Tragic Slip
−3 Go for the Throat
+3 Strangleroot Geist
+2 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Naturalize

Solar Flare – Game 2

Naturalize
I kept a hand of two Swamps, Woodland Cemetery, Gravecrawler, two Gloom Surgeons, and Naturalize. My opponent started us off with a Glacial Fortress. I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast my Gravecrawler. My opponent played a Seachrome Coast and passed the turn.

I drew a Forest and swung for 2. My opponent exiled my Gravecrawler with Celestial Purge. I played Woodland Cemetery and cast my Gloom Surgeon, then ended my turn. My opponent played Ghost Quarter, cast Lingering Souls, and passed the turn.

I drew Vampire Nighthawk and swung with my Gloom Surgeon. A Spirit token blocked and died, and Gloom Surgeon exiled a Woodland Cemetery. I played a Swamp, cast the second Gloom Surgeon, and passed the turn. My opponent played Ponder, keeping the three, then played a Swamp and cast a second Lingering Souls from his hand. He passed the turn.

I drew another Forest and attacked with my Gloom Surgeons, which were blocked by two Spirits, exiling a Swamp and a Quirion Dryad. I cast Vampire Nighthawk, played a Forest, and passed the turn. My opponent paid the flahsback cost on a Lingering Souls and passed the turn.

I drew a Diregraf Ghoul and attacked with everything. All three Spirits blocked the Nighthawk, and a Celestial Purge exiled a Gloom Surgeon. My opponent took 2, I gained 2, and the Nighthawk and two Spirits died. I played a Swamp, cast Diregraf Ghoul, and passed the turn. My opponent flashed back the second Lingering Souls and passed the turn.

I drew Nihil Spellbomb, cast it, and attacked with my two creatures. Diregraf Ghoul traded with two Spirit tokens, and Gloom Surgeon took down the last one, exiling another Gloom Surgeon. I passed the turn. My opponent exiled my Gloom Surgeon with Oblivion Ring, but I took that out with Naturalize at the end of his turn.

I drew a Swamp, swung in for 2, and passed the turn. My opponent passed the turn with no play.

Gideon Jura
I drew Vile Rebirth and attacked for 2, bringing my opponent down to 14. I passed the turn, and my opponent cast Forbidden Alchemy. He ditched Timely Reinforcements, Terminus, and Day of Judgment. On his turn, he played an Island and cast Ponder, keeping the three cards on top. He then cast Phantasmal Image, copying my Gloom Surgeon. At the end of his turn, I cast Vile Rebirth to make a Zombie token.

I drew a Diregraf Ghoul, cast it, and ended my turn. My opponent played a Glacial Fortress and cast Gideon Jura. He used his +2 ability and passed the turn.

I drew Rancor, put it on the Gloom Surgeon, and attacked with everything. My opponent let Gideon die, and I ended my turn. My opponent played an Island and cast Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, wiping out my army and putting Rancor back in my hand. He then swung for 4 with Phantasmal Image.

I drew Glissa, the Traitor and cast her. I played my Forest, enchanted her with Rancor, and passed the turn. My opponent cast another Gideon Jura, used his +2, and ended his turn.

I drew Vile Rebirth, and was forced to attack Gideon for 3. I passed the turn. My opponent played an Island and used Gideon's −2 to kill Glissa. He then swung for 8.

I drew another Rancor and cracked my Nihil Spellbomb to draw a card. I drew a Forest and conceded.

Solar Flare – Game 3

Vampire Nighthawk
I kept a hand of two Swamps, a Forest, Gravecrawler, Quirion Dryad, Vampire Nighthawk, and Vile Rebirth. I started off with a Swamp and a Gravecrawler, then passed the turn. My opponent played a Glacial Fortress and passed the turn.

I drew Rancor, played my Forest, and put it on the Gravecrawler. I swung for 4 and passed the turn. My opponent played a Plains and passed the turn.

I drew Diregraf Ghoul and attacked for 4 again. My opponent exiled my Gravecrawler with Celestial Purge, putting Rancor back in my hand. I played a Swamp, cast Quirion Dryad, and then cast Diregraf Ghoul, putting a counter on it. I ended my turn.

My opponent played a Plains and passed the turn. I drew a Vampire Nighthawk and cast it, putting a counter on the Dryad. I swung for 5 and passed the turn. My opponent cast Forbidden Alchemy during my end step, dumping a Lingering Souls and two lands.

He played an Isolated Chapel, flashed back Lingering Souls, and then cast Phantasmal Image, copying my Nighthawk. He passed the turn.

I drew a Swamp and cast Rancor on Diregraf Ghoul. I attacked with everything. Phantasmal Image blocked Diregraf Ghoul, and the two Spirit tokens blocked Quirion Dryad and my Nighthawk. Phantasmal Image, Diregraf Ghoul, and the Spirit tokens died, Rancor went back to my hand, I gained 2 life, and my opponent gained 1. I played my Swamp and cast the second Vampire Nighthawk, putting a counter on Quirion Dryad. I then ended my turn.

My opponent played an Island, exiled my Dryad with Oblivion Ring, and passed the turn. I drew Woodland Cemetery, put Rancor on a Nighthawk, and swung for 6. My opponent dropped to 6, and I went up to 28. I passed the turn.

Sun Titan
My opponent played a Plains and cast Terminus, putting the Nighthawks on the bottom of my library and Rancor back in my hand. He ended his turn, and I exiled his Phantasmal Image with Vile Rebirth to make a 2/2 Zombie. I drew a Swamp, put Rancor on my Zombie, and dropped my opponent to 2.

He played a Drowned Catacomb and cast Sun Titan. He brought back a Glacial Fortress, then used it to cast Phantasmal Image, copying his Sun Titan and bringing back Seachrome Coast. He passed the turn. I drew yet another land, played it, and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with the Titans, and I dropped to 16. He passed the turn. I drew Glissa, the Traitor and cast her. I passed the turn, and my opponent played Forbidden Alchemy, dumping three lands.

He cast Oblivion Ring on her and swung with his Titans again, bringing back lands. I blocked one and went to 10. I drew another Glissa, the Traitor, cast her, and passed the turn.

My opponent cast another Forbidden Alchemy at the end of my turn, dumping a Sun Titan and more lands. He cast Ponder, keeping the three, then cast another Ponder, keeping again.* He cast Go for the Throat on my Glissa and killed me.




* Interesting fact: He told me after the match that he kept the first Ponder to draw a Day of Judgment since that would allow him to at least survive. He then cast the second Ponder hoping to find a removal spell, and ended up finding a Go for the Throat as the third card.




Although I did end up losing this match, it was very close, and I think the power of the deck is fairly clear from these games. Despite having two Sun Titans on the battlefield in the last game, my opponent had to dig to find a removal spell or he would have died on my turn.

One thing I noticed in the second game especially—and in the third to a lesser extent—was that I ended up drawing lands more quickly than I would have liked. Going forward, I would experiment with taking out a land, probably in exchange for a fourth Vile Rebirth. That card performed even better than I expected. The fact that it's an instant helps you be able to play around various sweepers, and it keeps your opponent guessing until the last second. If you're excited to play Rancor in Standard, give this deck a try.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can find me on the forums under Twinblaze, on Twitter under @Twinblaze2, or simply leave a comment below.