Zombie Master – Alpha
Date Reviewed: November 11, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 2.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Zombie Master is an oddity in more ways than one. Not only is he one of the old-style completely-symmetrical lords who gives the same bonuses to other players’ creatures, he’s also not a zombie himself. When he does stick, your zombies will be very hard to stop or slow down (fitting for how we’re used to seeing them in movies!). But he himself will die much more easily than those zombies, and the creature type is also common enough that you might run into an opponent with an “incidental” zombie in a non-tribal deck, and it will backfire. He’s not really a powerhouse card in any format, and there are options people will probably pick above him in casual, but he’s an interesting symbol from Magic’s history, a harbinger of things to come. You can also get some fun miles out of him in Old School constructed formats, particularly if you follow modern errata for creature types – Scavenging Ghoul and Khabal Ghoul are both officially zombies now.
It’s funny to think that despite the popularity of zombies, and their being one of the pillars of Onslaught‘s tribal environment, there were seven years between Zombie Master and Lord of the Undead.
Old-school support for one of the beloved tribes of the game, Zombie Master is an interesting enabler of sorts. On-command regeneration can be deceptively powerful if you have the mana to do so, and giving all your undead abominations swampwalk in the color most likely to run Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is also rather nice. There may well be cases where a timely Zombie Master enables an alpha strike then and there, and that’s always fun.
Of course, there are some downsides, and some of them are striking. Zombie Master is an old-school Lord; he does not buff himself with either of his buffs (as was the case with all of the old tribal lords), and those buffs are symmetrical. Unfortunately, this means your opponents can just as easily take advantage of you likely having a lot of swamps to run you over with Zombies (or changelings). A 2/3 body with no protection (he doesn’t even offer his own regeneration shield to himself) is hardly difficult to kill in an era where black removal no longer whiffs on black creatures as readily.
There are scenarios where Zombie Master can work, but I think it’s harmed by not buffing power or toughness on your undead army. There are generally better lords for the undead (like Death Baron, which does offer power and toughness and a more obnoxious combat ability), and the symmetry on this one can backfire more than a lot of symmetrical cards can. It’s an old-school card, but it has not aged all that well, to be honest.
Casual: 3 (remember that regeneration can be quite fun if you can pay into it)
Limited: 3.25 (very much a build-around, but the formats it’s been a part of aren’t always the kindest to it; still, a Zombie protected with a lot of shields is fittingly hard to remove)
At one point I imagined this was a good card to be in the rare slot in zombie tribal. Regeneration isn’t really a thing anymore but it could be great in a pinch if needed and a lot of times it catches your opponent off guard or makes them rethink their strategy. Swampwalk pairs great with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. I think it’s too…pointless in current constructed formats where there are just so many other better cards that you could include as opposed to this card. Whacky draft limited, maybe but you’d need a lot of things to go your way and have the other packs be zombie heavy same goes for which set is being drafted that has this card in it as it was reprinted a few times. It could be cute in commander, but don’t forget to read the text carefully as it affects ALL zombies, including your opponents. I wouldn’t use it but under the right conditions it could prove to be useful!
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