Onslaught Limited Review: Zombies

This is the fifth installment of my series evaluating the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. You can find the fourth installment here.

Drafting black in triple Onslaught was not a particularly good deal. Everyone thought that you had to be either black or red, meaning there would generally be four of each at any given draft table and, simply, red is better in black in that set. Now though, that may be changing, with Legions black appearing better than red, while fewer Sparksmiths means more non-black-red decks.

Black can be drafted with any color, but if you’re drafting zombies, you want the partner to be either red or green, with goblins partnering well with the undead’s aggressive tendencies, while the synergy of Symbiotes and Husk, cycling beasts and reanimation, make for a cohesive and powerful deck.

Black is notably short on bombs in Onslaught, but makes up for that with an abundance of creature control and the one non-rare card, Cruel Revival, that you can count on to deal with four of the five pit fighter legends and similar bombs. Kind of nice that it’s common.

The Cards

Visara, the Dreadful
Visara, the Dreadful
Do not listen to people who say the following: “Rorix is the best card in Onslaught”, “Exalted Angel is the best card in Onslaught”, “Silvos is the best card in Onslaught”, “Quicksilver Dragon is the best card in Onslaught” or “Contested Cliffs is the best card in Onslaught”. Those people fall into a category I like to call “wrong”. Lady Visara is the one and only.

Rotlung Reanimator
If nothing else, you play it turn three and trade it for two morphs or the time it takes to flip them over. Hopefully though, the Reanimator proves to be even more, dominating the table, especially when playing against the cleric deck. In that situation, when you cast it, watch your opponent’s face. The look of realization and resignation inspire a pretty good feeling.

Mass kill is good, and a cheap casting cost on it is quite the bonus. If nothing else, you can cast it turn four, taking out two opposing morphs and most two drops and get massive card advantage out of it, but it’s better than that, allowing you to play fatter creatures and set your opponent up for the ultimate fall. The moment you draft Infest, if your other color hasn’t been decided, try to go green. Fat men and Symbiotic guys should work pretty well here.

Cruel Revival
I don’t think Cruel Revival is black’s fourth best card, but I do think it’s the fourth most important. For pure card strength, I’d likely take Grinning Demon or Nantuko Husk, but the Revival plays one very important, specific role: solution to opposing bombs. No, it doesn’t stop Akroma’s Vengeance or Future Sight, but when you’re staring down Visara or Rorix, you’ll feel much better about your chances for survival with Revival in hand. There’s little in the format you can say that about.

Death Pulse
Death Pulse
The inability to cope with the bomb it the only reason Pulse sits behind Revival. The cycling is great, either in dealing with Sparkmith and Wellwisher or when used in combat as a trick, while the spell itself is effective for the cost, killing zombies or anything else that isn’t massive. A very strong all-around card, once you have a couple of Revivals, you definitely take Pulse over the third.

At first I thought Smother might be better than even Revival, but its obvious limitations render it less crucial. Taking out ‘Smith, morphs and any other three-drop in quick and efficient fashion, there’s no doubt that Smother does its job more efficiently than Revival, but that its job description is a limited one.

Grinning Demon
Surprised he’s this low? A couple of months ago, I proposed to some of my PT colleagues that the Demon may not be all he’s cracked up to be. I was mocked. Lo and behold, a couple of days ago, the same conversation transpired and there were a number of players suggesting the big man ain’t so tough. The problem with the Demon is that he puts you on a clock, one that can become a huge problem with Pacifism, Sandskin and the like. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good card, but I don’t define it as a bomb.

Nantuko Husk
Nantuko Husk
It looks so innocent, but the reality is that the Husk is a game breaker. Attacking into it is pointless, regardless of which other creatures are out and we haven’t even started on Symbiotic Elf, Symbiotic Beast or Rotlung Reanimator. My personal favorite start in the entire format is turn 2 Wirewood Herald, turn 3 Husk, turn 4 attack, sac the Herald, go get Symbiotic Elf. That, folks, is what we call “broken”.

Soulless One
The best of the Lhurgoyfs by a loooong shot, Soulless One just never gets small, unlike its counterparts, and that’s what really sets it apart. Not only does it get massive, it can’t be the target of Cruel Revival once it does. Obviously, this card’s value is going to depend on the contents of your stack, but if you are black and have a shot at it early, take it and start drafting zombies with prejudice. You won’t regret it.


It’s a little slow and heavy in the mana requirements, but Swat takes out zombies and those annoying 1/1s while at the same time never being bad by virtue of its cycling. Given the choice, I’ll take Swat over the common black evasion creatures every time, and will only occasionally pass it up for Uncle Fester (ing Goblin).

Gluttonous Zombie
Gluttonous Zombie
This may be a little high by virtue of the casting cost to size ratio, but its remarkable how often this card has been decisive in the games I’ve played with and against it. Yes, the black or red rule means it’s just a 3/3 against three of the other decks at the table quite often, but ‘Smith usually won’t kill it and neither will Shock, and that translates to big issues for the four red decks under that same rule.

Entrails Feaster
There are those who seem to think this is Visara’s second coming, but while I wouldn’t hold the mangy cat to that standard (look at that thing. I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole), it’s definitely a potential game breaker, though only in the late game. If you have the Feaster in your opening hand, you generally don’t want to play it on turn 1: you’re only offering opposing Sparksmiths and Crowns of Suspicion a use in the early game. Trade a few creatures and then play it: a tapped Feaster during your upkeep means you probably did something wrong at some point.

Festering Goblin
How can you not love this guy? One mana, stops Sparksmith cold, trades for a morph and the things it does in tandem with Nantuko Husk are scary. I don’t think I’ve targeted any creature in my graveyard more with Cruel Revivals than Fester. Time is money.

Undead Gladiator
Undead Gladiator
First things first: until you actually bring the Gladiator back to your hand, it’s a poor card, a very bad Spined Basher. That said, the cycling ability and return-to-hand function allow you to motor through your deck, finding your power cards and mean that nothing is useless. Never drawing a bad card ever again, even at the cost of four mana, is pretty sweet once you have seven lands or so. Moves up when you have Lightning Rift.

Oversold Cemetery
Meanwhile, here we have a card that, while powerful, does basically nothing before turn eight, bringing into question its status as a good card at all. When you play Cemetery, your attitude towards your creatures has to change, with their function becoming trade for opposing creatures. If you’re successful towards this goal, you’re going to win. Especially good with Krosan Tusker.

Severed Legion
The Legion is rapidly moving further down my list. Nick Eisel was right when he said that seeing a third turn Legion played against you was a relief, and against three out of seven decks, the Legion is nothing more than a 2/2 for three mana, and a hard three at that. I’m not saying it isn’t good. It’s a lot like Wind Drake, but in a format where tempo is so key, Legion does little to contribute to that.

Dirge of Dread
Dirge of Dread
Meanwhile, Dirge keeps moving up for me. Any card that cycles and does something at the same time has a lot of value, but Dirge is extraordinary in that it is capable of winning a game with either of its abilities while never proving useless or harmful. With Legions in, it may pass Legion for me.

hehe… hehe… Nitter.

Shepherd of Rot
It’s interesting this card doesn’t get mentioned more often with Sparksmith and Wellwisher (I’m guilty of it). The Shepherd controls the speed of the game, forcing your opponent to gain the upper hand or risk a) a draw or b) a loss on your terms. As a rule, don’t play more than one for every five zombies you have (including Shepherd) and don’t activate it if your table position isn’t favorable.

Wretched Anurid
Wretched Anurid
First, everyone loved him. Then, everyone hated him. Well, if you’re still stuck in that second group, I have bad news for you: you’re been playing the Anurid wrong. This card’s function is, hopefully, to get in three to six points before making a trade, an attitude you have to force on your opponents with aggressive play. Don’t give them time to draw that annoying solution. Simply put, you’re getting a zombie and a beast, both of which can reap major benefits for two mana. Oh yeah, and that 3/3 body isn’t bad either.

Anurid Murkdiver
Another beast-zombie, the Murkdiver’s a funny card. The expectation is that it’ll be great against three of seven decks, poor against the others, and as a result, it’s kind of the indicator as to whether your deck is good or not (good in the board, bad in the main) and yet, because of it, the bad black deck often beats the good ones, which sit with Revival in hand watching this guy kill them. It’s a funny game.

Haunted Cadaver
I am definitely not the fan of this card some people seem to be. Yes, it offers hope for the three-for-one, but as I’ve written in the past, activation in the early going can really screw with your tempo, so much so that your opponent will have a pretty good shot at winning before you can take advantage of all those extra cards. If you play it, please do not activate it on turn four except under special circumstances, like an opposing triple mulligan.

Fallen Cleric
Fallen Cleric
Nothing special most of the time, the Cleric can really tear right though those black-white cleric decks you’ll be encountering more now with Legions. That, plus its zombie status and high casting cost make it attractive for the little reasons. Don’t pick it with prejudice, but it should make your deck most or the time.

I’ve seen this card misplayed in so many ways and that’s why it’s not a little higher. Do not cast Blackmail on turn one! Wait until your opponent has three cards in hand if possible, unless they played first and double mulliganed. In that situation, turn one is fine. Take the land.

Frightshroud Courier
Most would put the Courier higher, especially since this is one of the better abilities among the Courier-kin. The thing is, the same problem persists: pay three, forfeiting spells for the turn, activate Courier, attack with fear-zombie, opponent kills Courier, blocks favorably, kills the zombie… losing card advantage and tempo. Obviously, this doesn’t happen every time, but it does happen enough to be considered in evaluating this one-toughness creature.

Aphetto Vulture
Aphetto Vulture
Flyers are good and flyers that don’t die are better, but not when they cost six mana and provide a Shockable body. The reason R&D was willing to make the Vulture so good at dying is because it dies so easily and the sad truth is that the Vulture is just too slow. Occasionally, it’ll win you a game by trading for a flyer every turn when your opponent is trying to outrace time, but even that stagnates your game while they get new cards and that means they’ll eventually find a win method.

Spined Basher
Okay, that it morphs is less relevant than any other card in the format, but I like the Basher in my black-green decks because I can bring it back with Cruel Revival then draw a card with Wirewood Savage. Its dual creature type doesn’t seem that relevant at first glance, but in the right deck, they can be very big. Basher won’t usually make my decks, but in black-green, it’s not a bad thing.

Aphetto Dredging
While the presence of cycling beasts or Death Match in your deck will make the Dredging a lot better, on its own merits, it’s a very slow card that requires the right creature configuration to gain card advantage from. I generally try to get one and start it in the sideboard, regardless of my colors, as there are just some matchups in which this card becomes so good that it’s almost worth splashing. Most of the time, though, I don’t want it main.

Unholy Grotto
Unholy Grotto
Unless you have some of the zombies at or near the top of this list, the Grotto isn’t exciting, returning cards you don’t necessarily want to draw. That said, recursive Rotlung Reanimators, Festering Goblins and Nantuko Husks can be an extraordinarily painful thing to see from the other side of the table. Don’t play it if you’re three colors; the strain on your mana isn’t worth it.

Feeding Frenzy
In this format of morphs colliding headfirst like rams, you need to have a lot of zombies, likely seven-eight as a minimum, to play the Frenzy in the maindeck. That said, it does make for a very good sideboard card in the black mirror and it’s always nice to kill Sparksmith with a 12th pick…

Shade’s Breath
This ranking assumes that your deck is split down the middle, half black, half not black, but the Breath can move up considerably with the number of swamps in your deck. I’ll maindeck it if the other contents of my deck insist on eleven swamps or more.

Chain of Smog
I like sideboarding the Chain in when I’m about to choose to play first, assuming my deck has any one- or two-casting cost creatures with which to gain board advantage. Drawing first, though, the Chain won’t do much for you in the opening hand except either impose the self-lock or force an opposing land to the graveyard on turn twelve. If you have a lot of two drops, this can change though.

Fade from Memory
Fade from Memory
Possibly the single most underdrafted card in the format, Fade From Memory isn’t entirely useful as a spell, but its very cheap cycling cost in a color low on cycling cards gives it value that most drafters don’t seem to recognize. If you see it 12th or 13th, please pick it up: you won’t regret it when you open the Lightning Rift next pack or find you only have twenty playables.

Walking Desecration
I’m not a fan, but the Desecration can serve a solid purpose against small creatures that hold the fort (clerics) and is a lot of fun against a deck with multiple Leery Fogbeasts.

Gravespawn Sovereign
Gravespawn Sovereign
Zombies are aggressive, and as such, they long to attack. At the same time, the Sovereign is a 3/3 for six, suggesting its ability should be more powerful than Morphling and yet that ability is contingent on four other zombies living and the graveyards having something special. Just play the off-color morph.

False Cure
Getting to the real chaff here. I’ve never boarded this in, but at least it’s rare.

Strongarm Tactics
Getting to the real chaff here. I’ve never boarded this in, but at least it’s rare.

Words of Waste
Getting to the real chaff here. I’ve never boarded this in, but at least it’s rare.

Accursed Centaur
It’s common. I see no reason it should go higher than 15th. Do not ever play this card.

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