Zombie Armies in Dominaria

The hot topic in Standard right now is the dominance of Goblin Chainwhirler and rise of a "solved" format. That's all fine and well, but our own Ryan S has other plans for Standard. In this article, He explores two casual Standard builds around his favorite Dominaria card and its zombie army.

During the preview season of Dominaria, there was a card which immediately caught my attention. I immediately thought of building a deck around this card. The card in question was Josu Vess, Lich Knight.

Josu Vess, Lich Knight

A 4/5 zombie knight with menace for 2BB is not bad but certainly is nothing special. What makes this card special is its 5B kicker, which brings eight 2/2 menace zombies with Josu. That is 16 power on the board from one card. Combine that with Josu himself and you have 20 power ready to strike on the next turn. Powerful indeed, but you have to spend 10 mana to achieve this, plus you have to wait to attack until your next turn. This is not very efficient in Standard. So how do we make this more playable? There are some interesting cards currently in standard that generate extra mana such as Cabal Stronghold, however, this can only be used effectively in a mono black build. Treasure generating cards can also be used, however, and while doing some research, I found two fun and underrated ways which can generate enough mana to cast Josu kicked.

The first version enlists the aid of another Legend - Neheb, the Eternal!

The second version exploits Bounty of the Luxa.

Neheb to the Rescue

Neheb the Eternal

Remember Neheb, the Eternal from Hours of Devastation? A 4/6 zombie Minotaur Warrior for 3RR with afflict 3, which gives you red mana in your post-combat main phase, equal to the amount of life lost by the opponent. Neheb is a good card for decks that rely on large costing spells. If he attacks and is not blocked you get 4 red mana, while if he gets blocked you still get 3 red mana, thanks to the afflict mechanic. Considering that Neheb costs 5 mana to cast, if you combine the extra mana he generates and you are not missing your land drops, this gives you access to between 8 and 10 mana on turn 6.

Ideal Scenario: you play a land on each of your turns until you cast Neheb, you attack with him on turn 6 (or use other sources of damage to generate even more mana), Neheb is not blocked and on the post-combat main phase you are ready to cast a kicked Josu Vess.

How to Make It Playable

If you just rely on Neheb to generate the mana, then you're going to play a slow game. This will cause a number of problems and is not the most efficient way to win Standard games. Considering the number of cards that can get rid of Neheb before you get the chance to do anything with him, we need to speed things up a bit. One solution, and the one we'll explore is to add green and play a Jund ramp strategy.

LLanowar Elves Elfhame Druid Grow from the Ashes

By opening up to green, we can include cards such as Llanowar Elves, Channeler Initiate, Jadelight Ranger, Naga Vitalist, Grow from the Ashes, Hour of Promise, Beneath the Sands, Elfhame Druid and Adventurous Impulse. All these options allow us to accelerate our mana and ramp fast to cast our spells sooner. Adventurous Impulse is not real ramp, but it does help us not miss out land drops or grab a creature depending on the situation. These options give us the choice to go two ways. We can either use creature accelerants such as Llanowar Elves, Channeler Initiate and Elfhame Druid (especially good since it provides GG instead of G for kicked spells such as Grow from the Ashes) or we can choose to go land ramp by using spells to search for lands and put them on the battlefield early. My recommendation is to find the balance and use both. This helps to smooth out the mana curve of the deck especially when we have to choose what other cards to include. Since we are ramping so much we can consider running a copy of Torment of Hailfire as a plan B finisher as this spell benefits from as much mana as possible.


Abrade Vraska's Contempt

In order to survive long enough to cast Neheb or Josu, we need to get rid of our opponent's threats. Since we are in Jund, we have a lot to choose from. Black provides direct creature removal with cards like Fatal Push, Cast Down, Vicious Offering, Doom Fall, and Vraska's Contempt. In red, we find cheap spells such as Shocks, Magma Spray, Lightning Strike, Abrade, Fight with Fire and if we have a legendary creature or planeswalker on the board, we can cast Jaya's Immolating Inferno. What we have to be careful here is not to include a lot of removal that could put a strain on our mana curve of any single color. By examining which colors are more important in our deck we can smooth the curve by adding removal of the strong color instead of adding removal that requires us to add more sources of a particular color. For example if we want to go for a Green Black core and a splash of red, we should avoid Magma sprays and Lightning Strikes and instead opt for Fatal Push, Vicious Offering or Cast Downs. As they would be easier to cast since we will probably have the black mana to cast them.

Green might not offer much in removal, but it does have answers to enchantments or artifacts thanks to Naturalize and Broken Bond.


Jadelight Ranger Walking Ballista

Casting Josu Vess kicked requires quite a lot of mana. To do it quickly, some of our creatures in the deck need to help us with the mana acceleration. Llanowar Elves is an easy inclusion therefore and Elfhame Druid is a decent two drop, which also ramps our kicker spells. Jadelight Ranger helps us dig through our deck, whether we need more lands or something to cast and the ability to explore twice as it enters the battlefield means that it can also be threatening by itself. An interesting addition to the deck is Ammit Eternal as it poses a threat on turn 3 while also enabling Neheb later on. Since we are in red we can also consider cards like Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer. Rekindling Phoenix is very hard to get rid off, so the opponent would have to spend extra resources just to deal with it, while Glorybringer can appear swinging out of nowhere and might even get rid of an opposing creature. The problem with including Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix is that they are not really doing anything for the deck. They are good creatures on their own, but in the overall strategy, they just stall since the deck does not play offensively. Since we are trying to generate as much mana as possible, we can also include Walking Ballista, which is easily the best mana sink in Standard right now.  


Chandra, Torch of Defiance Angrath, the Flame Chained Vraska, Relic Seeker

As much as I was tempted to add Liliana to the deck, for the obvious flavor, she did not seem to add anything to the jund build of the deck. However, one of her friends was a perfect fit - Chandra, Torch of Defiance. It allows us to ramp or dig through the deck. Chandra can even act as removal with her -3 ability, which deals four damage to a target creature. Vraska, Relic Seeker and Angrath, the Flame-Chained can be useful in some situations. Against control decks, both Vraska and Angrath provide some nice disruption for depending on the situation. They are, therefore, good sideboard options depending on the matchups. Karn, Scion of Urza can also be considered as it offers more digging and card draw, possibly getting us more lands or just providing constructs for blocking.

Sideboard Cards

Heaven to Earth Sweltering Suns

For the sideboard we have to include answers to enchantments and artifact, hence the inclusion of Naturalize and Vraska, which can also generate creatures against grindy match ups. Heaven // Earth and Sweltering Suns are a cards that can be quite useful against mono blue or token decks that like to swarm the field with creatures. Chandra's Defeat is very effective against fast red decks and any Glorybringers or Chandras played against us. Duress is a must include against control decks. In order to deal with Scarab God and other control planeswalkers such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Karn, Scion of Urza we need to include Vraska's Contempt. While copies of Silent Gravestone can take care of any graveyard effects.

The Jund Deck

Of course the idea of this deck is ambitious, and a problem with this variant is the double red and double black (triple for a kicked Josu), which the elves do not help cast. However, if you manage to stall long enough, the deck can turn into a power house. Here is one of the builds I am running. As I mentioned before this is not meant to be a top tier deck but a fun casual build that can still hold its own against powerful decks. I constantly tweak the list and try new things.

Jund Josu Vess by Ryan S:


Josu in the Luxa

Bounty of the Luxa

As mentioned in the beginning, another way to generate enough mana to be able to cast a kicked Josu Vess is to exploit Bounty of the Luxa. Instead of using Neheb and adding red to the deck, we can build a Sultai version and splash blue to the core black green ramp strategy of the deck. This means that the same green and black cards that worked in the Jund version can still be useful in the sultai build. Cards like Llanowar elves, Jadelight Ranger, Elfhame Druid, Grow from the Ashes, and Hour of Promise are still useful in this version. Cards like Fatal Push, Vraska's Contempt and Torment of Hailfire are good removal cards, with Torment being a second finisher for the deck. For the Sultai Version, Karn, Scion of Urza is also a perfect way to dig through our deck for the cards we need.

So why should we splash blue for Bounty of the Luxa. The 2GU enchantment states: At the beginning of your pre-combat main phase, remove all flood counters from Bounty of the Luxa. If no counters were removed this way, put a flood counter on Bounty of the Luxa and draw a card. Otherwise, add {C}{G}{U}. Bounty of the Luxa can help us draw cards and ramp as the turns go by. If we play Bounty of the Luxa and then cast another one the following turn, we are guaranteed to and extra 3 mana and extra card draw on each of our turns. Similar to the Jund version, we will still need to ramp as fast as possible but with the added blue we can also use the extra mana to draw cards later in the game thanks to Spring // Mind. This will speed our ramp and provide future card draw.

Spring to Mind Scarab God

Since we are adding blue to the deck we can also enlist The Scarab God to disrupt our opponent's plays while also distracting them from a kicked Josu Vess. This build also benefits from the inclusion of Sandwurm Convergence which stops any Lyra Dawnbringer from attacking us, since it blocks any creature with flying from attacking us or our planeswalker and gives us a 5/5 wurm on each of our endsteps.

For the sideboard we can include Negate and Essence Scatter to add against control or creature heavy decks. I also like the single copy of River's Rebuke which can completely swing the game against grindy match ups. The other cards are the same as the Jund version with copies of Duress, Naturalize and Vraska's Contempt, which offer more options against a variety of decks.

Sultai Josu Vess by Ryan S:


Both versions of the deck play a midrange game. The plan of each deck is to ramp out early and deal with any early opponent threats with cheap removal. The Jund version is more aggressive compared to the Sultai version; however, both decks have a similar playstyle. Each deck will struggle against token, creature strategies if not dealt with early. On the other hand, the decks can outpace control decks if the ramp strategy works and the opponent is not prepared to deal with a sudden zombie army with menace. Even though both decks might not be super competitive, they are fun to pilot and can provide some surprising wins.

What do you think? Which version do you prefer? Do you have any suggestions or improvements you want to do to the decks? Have you tried to make Josu Vess Work in another ways? Share your ideas; I am very interested in what the community can come up with!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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