Constructing Flavor: Plants vs. Zombies

Constructing Flavor focuses on Magic decks built around a particular flavor or lore theme. These can be focused around a particular tribe, storyline, character, or concept; if it’s flavorful, we wanna see it! If you have a themed deck you’d like to see featured in this column, send the list to firesidemagic@gmail.com.


Plants vs Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies © Electronic Arts Inc.

When Innistrad was originally released, I saw the card Grave Bramble and immediately started cackling with glee. I immediately recognized the tribute to PopCap’s wonderful tower defense game, Plants vs. Zombies, and I was inspired to recreate the game in the world of Magic. I built one deck each to represent the Plants team and the Zombies team, and in typical Duel Decks fashion, tried to balance them against each other as much as possible.

The decks were badly unbalanced and it didn’t go well, but with the release of Plants vs. Zombies 2 looming closer every day, I thought this would be a good time try again. My problem was that the Zombies deck was always much more powerful than the Plants deck, and the general nature of Magic’s “dueling” didn’t really capture the feel of tower defense. Luckily, I discovered a variant that seems to capture the flavor of PvZ perfectly: Horde Magic.

In a nutshell, here’s how the variant works:

  • Players fight as a team against a single Horde deck, which is autopiloted
  • The Horde deck is constructed of 60% creature tokens
  • Each turn after the 3rd, the Horde deck flips over cards until it reveals a non-token, then casts them all. All Horde creatures have haste and attack each turn if able.
  • The Horde deck takes damage in the form of milling cards, and loses when the deck is empty

You can click the above link for more detailed rules, but those are the basics: simply survive until the Horde runs out. Seeing as that’s the theme of PvZ too, Horde seems perfect.

Here are my original two decks:

Zombies

Lands
4x Spawning Pool
17x Swamp
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Spells
1x Accorder’s Shield
1x Batterskull
1x Grappling Hook
1x Kitesail
1x Nim Deathmantle
1x Ronin Warclub
2x Endless Ranks of the Dead
2x Zombie Infestation
1x Army of the Damned
1x Dead Reckoning
2x Ghoulcaller’s Chant
1x Stir the Grave
Creatures
2x Bog Raiders
1x Cemetery Reaper
1x Contagious Nim
2x Cyclopean Giant
1x Deepwood Ghoul
3x Diregraf Ghoul
3x Dregscape Zombie
1x Fleshbag Marauder
1x Gluttonous Zombie
1x Grave Titan
1x Graveborn Muse
1x Gutless Ghoul
2x Unbreathing Horde
1x Undead Warchief
2x Walking Corpse

Plants

Lands
1x Bant Panorama
2x Dryad Arbor
9x Forest
3x Horizon Canopy
1x Island
4x Khalni Garden
2x Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
1x Plains

Spells
3x Entangling Vines
2x Captured Sunlight
2x Green Sun’s Zenith
2x Incremental Growth
2x Rampant Growth
1x Battlegrowth
2x Beast Within
1x Vines of Vastwood
2x Diviner’s Wand
1x Springleaf Drum
Creatures
3x Avenger of Zendikar
2x Dryad Arbor
2x Magus of the Vineyard
1x Phytohydra
2x Sprouting Phytohydra
4x Utopia Tree
2x Vigean Hydropon
2x Vinelasher Kudzu
1x Wall of Roots
2x Wall of Vines

It’s clear from looking at these lists that these decks are not very good. Let’s remedy that by scrapping what we don’t need and keeping the stuff that works well, and then we can rebuild with Horde in mind.

Zombie Horde Deck

First thing we need to do to get our Zombie deck ready to horde is remove any spell that isn’t autopilot-friendly. The Horde deck has infinite mana and no hand or life total, but must be able to run itself. Things like targeting, life gain, most activated abilities, and card draw are simply out of its wheelhouse. This takes care of Cemetery Reaper, Cyclopean Giant, Dead Reckoning, Deepwood Ghoul, Fleshbag Marauder, Ghoulcaller’s Chant, Graveborn Muse, Gutless Ghoul, Stir the Grave, Zombie Infestation, and all Equipment and Land.

Fortunately, the remaining steps are easy: we throw in 55 Zombie tokens and 5 Zombie Giant tokens, do a quick Gatherer search for Zombies and Zombie-related cards, and fill the deck with the baddest undead ghouls we can find. The new Horde deck now looks like this:

Creatures
1x Aphetto Vulture
1x Barrow Ghoul
1x Black Cat
1x Bog Raiders
1x Contagious Nim
1x Death Baron
1x Diregraf Captain
1x Diregraf Ghoul
1x Dregscape Zombie
1x Geralf’s Messenger
1x Gloomdrifter
1x Gluttonous Zombie
1x Grave Titan
1x Gravebane Zombie
1x Gravecrawler
1x Grixis Slavedriver
1x Lightning Reaver
1x Maalfeld Twins
1x Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
1x Nested Ghoul
1x Order of Yawgmoth
1x Severed Legion
1x Shadow Rider
1x Shambling Remains
1x Soulless One
1x Sutured Ghoul
1x Thraximundar
1x Unbreathing Horde
1x Undead Alchemist
1x Undead Warchief
1x Vengeful Dead
1x Walking Corpse
1x Wight of Precinct Six
1x Zombie Mob
Spells
1x Army of the Damned
1x Endless Ranks of the Dead
1x Moan of the Unhallowed
1x Quest for the Gravelord
1x Syphon Flesh
1x Zombie Apocalypse

Tokens
5x Zombie Giant
55x Zombie

Looks nasty! Let’s turn to the Plants deck now and get ready for war.

When exploring the Plants’ avenues to victory, I pondered several strategies. Do I focus on defensive Plants with a finisher of the Avenger of Zendikar variety, as the prototype did? Do I go Treefolk Tribal (seeing as trees are plants too) and attempt to overrun with Doran, the Siege Tower? Or do I pump out an never-ending swarm of Saprolings to chump-block until the Zombies beg for mercy?

And then I thought, por qué no los tres?, and went to work building a Commander deck.

Plants “Survivor” Commander Deck

Doran, the Seige Tower Image ©1993-2013 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Doran, the Siege Tower
Image ©1993-2013 Wizards of the Coast LLC

Our previously-mentioned buddy Doran is the easy pick for a commander here. His GWB (“Junk”) color identity allows for the leafy green Plants we know we’ll need, in addition to some auxiliary off-color trickiness. The deck will be loaded with high-toughness creatures, back-breaking late-game effects, and hopefully at least a few ways to make gobs and gobs of Saprolings.

Let’s start by pulling from the original deck all the Plant defenders and their friends that will make a return here. Utopia Tree is nice ramp and color fixing, and reminds me of PvZ’s Sunflower. Magus of the Vineyard, a.k.a. Crazy Dave, completely loses his downside when we’re playing against a deck with intrinsic infinite mana. And since the original deck didn’t have a lot of post-Innistrad contributions, it’ll be happy to (finally!) add Grave Bramble, in addition to Tree of Redemption and Gatecreeper Vine.

Since so many of those Plants have defender, we should throw in some cards that care about that. Rolling Stones allows our Plants to join the fight and take advantage of Doran’s ability, and Axebane Guardian is similarly a no-brainer. Perimeter Captain, Stalwart Shield-Bearers, and Wakestone Gargoyle aren’t very flavorful, but they do nice things for defenders and give this deck some much-needed staying power. Plus the first two have very appropriate flavor text.

On the Treefolk side of things, there are more than enough goodies that deserve adding:

  • Black Poplar Shaman keeps his fellow Trees alive
  • Bosk Banneret is good acceleration
  • Deadwood Treefolk blocks well and recurs things from my graveyard
  • Fendeep Summoner turns Swamps into blockers
  • Indomitable Ancients aren’t dying from combat anytime soon
  • Lumberknot is going to get huge, especially if we get a good Saproling sacrifice outlet going
  • Nemata, Grove Guardian could be that aforementioned outlet
  • Orchard Warden gives us a little more life gain
  • Thorntooth Witch seems like she’d be good at killing Zombies
  • Timber Protector can make it very, very hard for the Zombies to gain ground
  • Treefolk Harbinger finds any of these, turn 1!
  • Treefolk Healer can essentially block two Zombies per combat
  • Verdeloth the Ancient has no good reason to not be in this deck

The more astute of you may have noticed some odd omissions. Why no Dungrove Elder, for instance? The focus of this deck is defense, so I left out the Treefolk that expressly wanted to attack. They’ll all get their time to shine once Doran comes around! Also, the “garden protector” flavor that a lot of these Treefolk have fits well with PvZ; rampaging trees, not so much.

Now for Saprolings, an area I admit I am not too familiar with. I decided to scour some Ghave, Guru of Spores decklists for ideas, since he’s the king of GWB Saprolings. With that and a Gatherer search for Saproling goodies, and I came away with some solid inclusions:

  • Doubling Season, because it’s always the reason for the Season (and Parallel Lives isn’t as flavorful)
  • Golgari Germination can help mitigate any fatalities during combat
  • Greener Pastures is going to trigger every turn for us
  • Jade Mage can pump out Saprolings whenever you’ve got extra mana
  • Mycoloth can make a lot of Saprolings, given proper setup
  • Necrogenesis and Night Soil cut off graveyard antics while making Saps
  • Saproling Symbiosis seems like it could make for a pretty explosive turn
  • Selesnya Evangel and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree can generate only one Saproling at a time, but at least they can do it every turn
  • Sprout Swarm is a Swiss army knife of Saproling production
  • Thelonite Hermit is a Saproling lord, and can make some himself if you’ve got the time and mana
  • Verdant Force can block just about any Zombie, and oh yeah it makes Saprolings every upkeep. His buddy Verdant Embrace can come too.

I’m purposefully avoiding the Fungus/Spike/Thallid route for both flavor and gameplay reasons; Fungi aren’t really Plants, and I don’t wanna get too durdly with +1/+1 and spore counters.

With the remaining slots, I’m just going to fill some holes, add flavorful things, and throw in a few cards that just seem good for this strategy:

  • Blunt the Assault could buy me a huge bundle of life and another turn from an attack that might otherwise kill me
  • Seedborn Muse can block, is flavorful, and combos well with the next two cards…
  • Glare of Subdual, which can make entire combat phases disappear…
  • …and Earthcraft, which turns every creature you have into a mana dork.
  • Entangler can allow a high-toughness or indestructible creature to take on as many Zombies as possible. We’ll just pretend that the art features vines or something.
  • Overrun, Overwhelming Stampede, and Craterhoof Behemoth as additional wincons. We’ll throw in Kamahl, Fist of Krosa too, but that one’s just for me. I loves me some Mirari Saga, and he’s flavorful in this deck.
  • …and we’ll end this off with some good ol’ ramp (more sunflowers!) in the form of Cultivate, Explosive Vegetation, and Harrow

When it’s all put together with some flashy nonbasic lands, our new Plants deck looks like this:

Commander
Doran, the Siege Tower

Spells
1x Blunt the Assault
1x Captured Sunlight
1x Cultivate
1x Doubling Season
1x Earthcraft
1x Entangler
1x Entangling Vines
1x Explosive Vegetation
1x Glare of Subdual
1x Golgari Germination
1x Green Sun’s Zenith
1x Greener Pastures
1x Groundswell
1x Harrow
1x Necrogenesis
1x Night Soil
1x Overrun
1x Overwhelming Stampede
1x Rampant Growth
1x Rolling Stones
1x Saproling Symbiosis
1x Springleaf Drum
1x Sprout Swarm
1x Verdant Embrace
Creatures
1x Avenger of Zendikar
1x Axebane Guardian
1x Black Poplar Shaman
1x Bosk Banneret
1x Carnivorous Plant
1x Craterhoof Behemoth
1x Deadwood Treefolk
1x Doran, the Siege Tower
1x Dryad Arbor
1x Fendeep Summoner
1x Gatecreeper Vine
1x Grave Bramble
1x Indomitable Ancients
1x Jade Mage
1x Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1x Magus of the Vineyard
1x Mycoloth
1x Nemata, Grove Guardian
1x Orchard Warden
1x Overgrown Battlement
1x Perimeter Captain
1x Phytohydra
1x Seedborn Muse
1x Sprouting Phytohydra
1x Stalwart Shield-Bearers
1x Thelonite Hermit
1x Thorntooth Witch
1x Timber Protector
1x Tree of Redemption
1x Treefolk Healer
1x Utopia Tree
1x Verdant Force
1x Verdeloth the Ancient
1x Vine Trellis
1x Vinelasher Kudzu
1x Wakestone Gargoyle
1x Wall of Roots
1x Wall of Vines
Lands
1x Command Tower
1x Elfhame Palace
1x Fetid Heath
9x Forest
1x Gaea’s Cradle
1x Graypelt Refuge
1x Grove of the Guardian
1x Horizon Canopy
1x Khalni Garden
1x Murmuring Bosk
4x Plains
1x Sapseep Forest
1x Stirring Wildwood
1x Sungrass Prairie
1x Sunpetal Grove
5x Swamp
1x Twilight Mire
1x Verdant Catacombs
1x Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
1x Vivid Grove
1x Windswept Heath
1x Wooded Bastion
1x Woodland Cemetery

And there you have it: Plants vs. Zombies as a Magic game. I can’t wait to try it out! If you know some other cards that would fit great in here, be sure to let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter at @setheweinstein.

‘Till next time!

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