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‘Tis the Season, Zedruu the Greathearted

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When the Commander decks were first spoiled, there was one new Commander who really jumped out at me as begging to be broken. Zedruu the Greathearted was, to me, the card with the most inherent potential to do something absolutely busted in a format as over-the-top as Commander. There had to be something inherently unfair you could do with Donate on a stick, right?

Was there ever! Since the decks were released, we've seen all kinds of applications for [card Zedruu the Greathearted]Zedruu[/card]. From the obvious "how many times can I donate Illusions of Grandeur" plan, to locking people out with cards like Celestial Dawn and Pyromancer's Swath to just playing political games with cards like Rainbow Vale while you pillowfort. People have tried just about everything and most aspects of Zedruu's potential have been pretty thoroughly explored at this point.

Because everyone was so excited about Zedruu and tried to break him in every way possible, he's a lot less interesting now than he was a few months ago. That said, it's the holiday season, and I really feel like playing a Zedruu deck to get in the spirit and teach people about The Will of Zedruu. Besides, when you have a card that generates both cards and life, there's always going to be something interesting that you can do with it!

As I mentioned before, most Zedruu decks are very heavily skewed towards the combo-control end of the spectrum. That's because these are the archetypes which can most easily take advantage of the resources that Zedruu provides. These decks want to draw a ton of extra cards, looking for particular combo pieces or answers, while using Zedruu to generate political favor and to let you trade one-for-one the entire game without falling behind. Life is also a powerful resource for these decks, since they use their life as a resource to buy more time and draw steps in order to find the cards they need.

In general, the question going to define how you build your Zedruu deck is this: what kind of cards are you donating to your opponents?

Are you giving them gifts like Rainbow Vale? Cards that don't care who controls them, like Moat or Howling Mine? Or are you donating things that ruin their day, like Taniwha? Most control decks fall into the first two categories, while combo decks are covered by the last.

Personally, I'm content to immediately rule out combo. I do like to build decks that are very powerful and non-interactive, but I generally don't like to play them. I also don't need another prisony-pillowfort deck that brings the game to a Standstill. I've got Child of Alara for that! I also absolutely cannot stand "Group Hug" decks, because I think they do more to unbalance the game in favor of the more degenerate decks than they do to make the game more enjoyable. In that sense, it's a form of king-making, or choosing who wins.

This leaves us with beating down as a plan, which seems a little strange when your general is a scrawny goat. Conveniently enough, however, Auras generally don't care who controls them, just what they're enchanting. Things like Steel of the Godhead are going to give the same bonus regardless of who controls the enchantment. Furthermore, I think that a Voltron-style deck is very well suited to taking advantage of the extra cards and life that Zedruu will provide you with and is an interesting departure from what Zedruu normally looks like.

Getting Big

Generally, Voltron decks jam all the most powerful Auras and Equipment in the format into their deck, add some acceleration and disruption, and call it a day. That's basically what we're going to do with this deck, but it's important to note that there's a very key distinction between Equipment and Auras for this particular build: Auras can be donated, Equipment cannot.

If you donate Equipment, the new controller can re-equip on their next turn. And you'll be the saddest.

It's also worth noting that, generally, Equipment are better than Auras because you're down cards when someone destroys your creature. Zedruu's ability helps to mitigate the loss of cards so we don't have to be as leery of Auras that are usually just not good enough.

Equipment

Now, the equipment here serves a couple of very distinct purposes. First, to provide Hexproof. This keyword is incredibly important for this style of deck and the power of Hexproof creatures plus Auras and Equipment has been proven time and again. The ability to keep suiting up your guy without worrying about removal is just unfair and is an effect I wanted on Equipment rather than Auras. Secondly, there are cards like the Swords and Diviner's Wand that have effects that are so powerful you can't ignore them. Evasion plus pumping your guy plus powerful utility effects? Seems really good, right?

Empyrial Plate is there to make Zedruu a threat immediately after he's been killed without requiring further investment. This is almost always going to be at least a +7/+7 bonus, which puts Zedruu very close to a two-turn clock. Lastly, Sunforger is there to cover one of the biggest weaknesses of the deck: a lack of answers. When you're playing an aggressive deck, you can't dilute your draws with too many answers because then you're not applying enough pressure. Sunforger plays both roles, and that flexibility is very important.

Auras

While the equipment mostly focused on utility effects, with pump as a secondary concern, the Auras are here to just pump Zedruu. That said, there are a few interactions to be aware of.

Firstly, Flickering Ward and Sword of Fire and Ice can make your auras "fall off" of Zedruu if you aren't careful.

Second, Copy Enchantment doesn't work quite the way people seem to expect. It does not target the Enchantment you want to target. If you copy an Aura, it also does not target the creature that you want to enchant. As it comes into play, it becomes the Aura you chose, then you choose a creature to attach it to. No one can respond to you choosing either an Enchantment or a Creature. They have to respond to you casting the [card]Copy Enchantment

Thirdly, take a look at the way that [card Hyena Umbra]Totem Armor[/card] is worded. Now look at Indestructibility. Indestructibility isn't in the deck to enchant Zedruu, though that's certainly something you can do. It's in the deck to enchant the Umbras. This basically makes Zedruu Indestructible, rather than just forcing people to kill him twice. They have to answer Indestructibility first, then Zedruu, and that's something a number of colors aren't equipped to do.

Lastly, Vanishing and Flickerform are great ways aside from Hexproof to protect Zedruu. Just be sure you brush up on your Phasing rules first! A permanent phases out along with all of the Auras and Equipment attached, then phases in during your Untap step. It does not trigger abilities when it phases in, and it "remembers" that it is the same card as when it left play.

Of the enchantment tutors, Wild Research is the most exciting, partly because it's just an awesome card but mostly because it interacts very favorably with the deck. First we should take into account Zedruu's ability: discarding a card at random will generally leave you with the card you tutored for! Second we should take into account this next suite of cards: your other sources of card advantage!

Card Advantage

Pursuit of Knowledge is a card I play with at every opportunity because it's just an awesome card. One-sided Wheel of Fortune? Sign me up! Especially with cards like Zedruu or Sylvan Library, you can just activate it in one turn and the card is nowhere close to fair.

Replenish, Retether and Sun Titan are all here to help mitigate the number of cards you lose to removal. Sun Titan made the cut over Open the Vaults because too many people want to recur artifacts, which makes Open the Vaults less one-sided. These cards also make Wild Research an incredible engine, regardless of whether you hit or miss on the random discard.

Mesa Enchantress and Kor Spiritdancer are the reason that Flickering Ward made the cut into the deck. I'm not sure if that interaction is good enough, considering that the ward has so little synergy with the rest of the deck, but it's certainly worth trying!

Disruption

All beatdown decks need some kind of disruption. Whether it's burning guys out of the way or countering their board sweeper, you have to have some way of being sure that you can push through for damage. This deck has two ways to do that: countermagic and generic utility removal.

Countermagic

Countermagic is incredibly potent in this deck, especially tempo-oriented countermagic like Remand and Memory Lapse. Tempo is normally pretty irrelevant in Commander games, but I like it in this deck for two reasons. First, it's entirely possible that you could just kill someone before they get a chance to recast their spell. Second, you're going to untap and draw two to four cards and likely find another counterspell. It's not too difficult to chain counterspells against someone while you're beating them down with Zedruu.

It's also worth noting that two of your counterspells can be tutored up by Sunforger[card]: Absorb and Lapse of Certainty!

Utility

Most of these are just generic removal for your Sunforger toolbox. The two real gems here are Divine Reckoning and Winds of Rath. The ability to sweep away most relevant creatures besides Zedruu is absolutely insane. There are very few spells that can clear the way like these two and most players will never see them coming.

Tricks and Treats

If you're playing Zedruu, you've got to have some political tricks, right? These are your techy cards that will help gain political favor and make sure that Zedruu is active, even after the board has been swept!

Darksteel Relic and Rainbow Vale are great technology for Zedruu decks and I'm surprised more decks don't run them. They're incredibly difficult to get rid of and will make sure you're going to net cards off of Zedruu every time you recast him.

The Vows, on the other hand, are awesome tools for politics that double as Voltron pieces. The trick is that you Vow someone's creature, then donate the Vow to another player, or even enchant Zedruu and then donate the Vow. It's a little weird, and these kinds of corner cases don't come up often, but these types of plays shouldn't be overlooked!

Mana Base

The manabase is one of the most important parts of this deck. You've got a color intensive general who you want to cast on turn three. He has a color-intensive ability that you want to be able to activate while casting double-White Auras and double-Blue countermagic. That's a pretty stringent list of requirements and it can be difficult to put together a manabase that's up to the task if you don't have access to Volcanic Island and Hallowed Fountain. That said, here's my attempt at a reasonable manabase:

Mana Ramp

The artifact ramp is very important since you want to stick a turn three Zedruu as frequently as possible. Any one of these mana rocks will enable that, and even Oath of Lieges will if you didn't go first. You could even go as far as to add things like Everflowing Chalice and Mind Stone, but those don't help your color requirements.

Lands

This combination of pain lands, fetch lands, filter lands, and five-color lands is the best combination I can think of without spending your life's savings on a manabase. That said, there are certainly changes you could make. Terramorphic Expanse and other fetches could be added to enable Clifftop Retreat and other buddy lands, for example.

That said, there's a ton of utility available in the chosen lands that could be changed to other utility lands or cut altogether for additional color-consistency. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea and Reliquary Tower, in particular, are hits that are missing. However, you do get to run gems like Ancient Ziggurat and Pillar of the Paruns that are awesome for you early game, which you can then donate to someone who can't use them later on. Have you ever donated a Pillar of the Paruns to a mono-colored deck?

The most important utility land in the deck is Hall of the Bandit Lord, a card which I can't praise enough. Haste is incredibly important in this style of deck, especially in the late game once Zedruu has been dealt with once or twice. You can wait for someone to tap out, then Haste them right out of the game, if you've held enough Auras back.

With that finished, here's the finalized decklist that I've been running for the last two weeks:

[deckbox did="a140" size="small" width="560"]

I have been very happy with the deck since it combines some elements of politics with a proactive and interactive strategy rather than just trying to interact as little as possible with Ghostly Prisons and Illusions of Grandeur. As awesome as those interactions are, this deck is just a lot more engaging and makes games more tense. It's a deck I'm glad to close the year out with!

With that, I'd like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season and I look forward to seeing what the new year brings. By the time we get back, Dark Ascension will be almost upon us and I'll have had plenty of time to come up with some interesting new lists to share! If you've got anything you want to share or ask about, be sure to comment or hit me up through email or Twitter! I'm always glad to talk about the format!

Carlos Gutierrez
cag5383@gmail.com
@cag5383 on Twitter

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