We’ve already taken a look at the rather pedestrian Humanity’s Vengeance event deck from Avacyn Restored, so now let’s take a look at Death’s Encroach. I think that this deck is perhaps a bit better overall in that it doesn’t really need to depend on a mechanic like its White/Blue counterpart has to in Soulbond. This deck is a bit quicker and more aggressive with some very solid ways to do a lot of damage quickly. Let’s take a look:
1 Cemetery Reaper
2 Crypt Creeper
4 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Geralf’s Messenger
1 Gloom Surgeon
4 Highborn Ghoul
3 Altar’s Reap
2 Doom Blade
3 Go for the Throat
The monster line-up is obviously nothing but Zombies, and with the exception of Gloom Surgeon, all pretty good cards. My primary issue with Gloom Surgeon is the fact that while it is technically indestructible, having to exile a card for each point of combat damage he would take just doesn’t not seem worth it for a 2/1. You would be much better off with another Gravecrawler instead of him. Crypt Creeper is interesting in that he can exile a card from a graveyard, preventing possible flashback or other sorts of recursion. Again you’d be better off with just two more Gravecrawlers, but for the review’s sake, if you have to go with what’s in the deck, it’s probably worth having.
Geralf’s Messenger is a very good card, and definitely one that you would want to have more than one of if you were to play this deck with any real aspirations of competing. Still, the fact that it’s in the same Event Deck as Gravecrawler makes this deck worthwhile. But your real heavy hitters in this deck (if you can call them that) are Highborn Ghoul, Diregraf Ghoul and Skinrender. Highborn Ghoul has Intimidate, which makes it a problem for most decks out there to handle. Diregraf Ghoul is a 2/2 for a single Black mana, and its only drawback is that it comes into play tapped. But considering how ahead of the mana curve you could be after playing two or three of these, that drawback just doesn’t really matter. Skinrender, while just a 3/3 for 4 mana, has the ability to put 3 -1/-1 counters on a target creature. The fact that it does its damage with counters and not just a traditional -3/-3 is very important for this deck because it can make bigger creatures that this deck would have trouble with into much smaller manageable threats. You also have Ghoulraiser. It’s only 1BB and a 2/2 with a good enter the battlefield ability: get a Zombie back from your graveyard. It is at random, but if you’ve already cast your Gravecrawler (either from your hand or your graveyard) you’re going to get back something useful. Obviously, this makes getting back your single copy of Geralf’s Messenger back much more easily.
I must also mention that Cemetery Reaper is in the deck. Obviously, he’s a very good lord card for the deck who also has a tap ability for 2B to remove a creature from any graveyard and give you a 2/2 zombie (essentially a 3/3 zombie with the Reaper in play). He’s another good possibility for Ghoulraiser to get back.
The removal package is fairly broad, with both Doom Blade and Go for the Throat in the main deck, plus two copies of Dismember. You also have three copies of Despise for hand control. An interesting inclusion is Altar’s Reap, which for 1B and sacrificing a Zombie, you can draw two cards. This is obviously combos pretty well with Gravecrawler, and is a nice way to get some card draw besides Sign in Blood (which was not in Standard when this deck was released, but is now with the release of Magic 2013).
The sleeper in this deck is the two copies of Lashwrithe. It’s a very interesting living weapon that’s really only good in mono-black, but for only 4 mana, you get a living weapon with X/X, X being the number of swamps you have in play. By turn 4, you’ll likely have a 4/4 already that can only get bigger. If the germ token is destroyed, you can pay 2 black mana and equip it to one of your other creatures (Highborn Ghoul is an excellent choice). Not only that, it’s equip cost has the Phyrexian mana option, meaning you could pay 2 life and one black or 4 life to equip instead. Considering that life is a resource you can easily afford to use with this deck, this comes in handy. If you can get both of these onto the board, your opponent will have a mess to deal with.
2 Appetite for Brains
2 Crypt Creeper
1 Surgical Extraction
3 Triumph of Cruelty
The sideboard offers some more hand control in Despise and two copies of Distress, plus Appetite for Brains, which can discard cards with mana costs over 4. You also get three copies of Deathmark to deal with white or green creatures that may give you problems. Triumph of Cruelty is an interesting enchantment card that forces your opponent to discard a card if you control the creature with the highest or tied for the highest power. With three copies of Triumph of Cruelty here, you could potentially have your opponent discard up to three cards a turn during each of your upkeeps. I don’t see this being a necessarily good strategy to win with, but it’s an interesting idea. There’s also a fourth copy of Ghoulraiser, two more Crypt Creepers for graveyard hate, and a Surgical Extraction. The Extraction is certainly a good card to have and does see play in other formats, so even leaving Standard won’t affect its value too much.
Overall, this deck has a much more straightforward plan of attack than its White/Blue event deck counterpart. It can cause a lot of damage quickly and has enough removal and recursion to keep a sustained attack. The Lashwrithes won’t be available in Standard much longer (as of this writing) but that won’t keep this Zombie deck from winning a few games at a local FNM even in a few months. If you get three more copies of Gravecrawler and a couple more copies of Geralf’s Messenger (neither of which are particularly expensive anymore due to their ready availability in these decks), you can have a very competitive budget deck for about the price of two of these decks. This deck definitely has more “Bang for Your Buck” than Humanity’s Vengeance, and unless you are bent on playing blue/white humans, this deck is the better investment.