The holidays have come and gone, we’re facing down a new year, and bracing ourselves for the horror that is Valentine’s Day. As we slowly put away our decorations and presents, it is inevitable that we will once again come across… it.
Everyone has one, whether they got for it for Christmas or their birthday, or some other occasion. It’s that strange widget, a perplexing object you didn’t know existed until you opened it. Now you’re wishing that it didn’t exist so that you wouldn’t have to deal with it. It’s that thing that just takes up space, and yet for some reason you can’t seem to get rid of it.
Back when I started playing Commander, it seemed that everyone was “working on a Zedruu deck,” but nobody had actually built one. The idea of playing a deck filled with awful cards that had to be given away was such a fun and silly idea that every time someone found a bad old card we would exclaim that it was “perfect for Zedruu!” This phrase became code for “this card is unplayable,” and we would all get a good laugh whenever it would come up. We would see cards like Alabaster Leech and Molten Firebird, and we knew just where to stick them: with Zedruu the Greathearted.
The more we would mention it, the more I knew I had to make this deck for myself. It had been a joke for so long, but I couldn’t help but wonder: what if I could actually find a way of making it work? I bought a copy of Zedruu and started brainstorming.
I began by looking at cards that would gradually lock players out of the game, like Aggressive Mining and Steel Golem. If my opponents couldn’t play their cards then surely I could find a way to win! I like to refer to these crippling cards as “poisoned apples” since they aren’t just useless, but actively hurt you by controlling them. The danger, of course, would be getting stuck with these permanents and having no way to offload them to the players around me. I would need to pair them with an assortment of donate effects, or choose ‘poisoned apples’ that would give themselves away. If I didn’t have to rely on Zedruu then it would help ensure that I would always have some way of getting rid of these terrible cards. I quickly realized that this plan would only get me so far, though. Giving cards away was fine, but what I really wanted were ways of EXCHANGING my permanents with those of my opponents. This would allow me not only to lock out the other players, but to simultaneously steal their win conditions. It was a good place to start.
Giving away bad cards and stealing permanents from other players was all well and good, but I would need other ways of slowing my opponents down. I would need cards that would disrupt my opponents’ plans, while ideally also being something I could give away. If I could find cards that didn’t care which player controlled them, then they would be safe to donate with Zedruu, drawing me extra cards every round. Cards with global effects, like Torpor Orb and Stony Silence came to mind, as well as auras like Ghostly Possession and Faith’s Fetters. Even cards like Oblivion Ring and Darksteel Relic (the ultimate do-nothing card) would be safe to give away. Each of these cards would be useful (ok, maybe not the Relic…), but would keep working no matter who controlled them.
I had a plan on how I would slow the game down, but at some point this deck would need to try and win the game. Stealing my opponents’ cards wouldn’t be enough, though. If I could set up some sort of late game combo, that would be ideal. I came up with a pretty classic plan. I would need to draw Capsize and Delusions of Mediocrity so that I could set up the following loop:
It was slow and clunky, but it would work. In fact, it HAS worked; I’ve won games with this loop, but to call it slow is an understatement. Once the deck got to the point of casting its combo it was pretty satisfying, but there was a lot of hard work that went into getting there. Careful table politics helped, but it was the other little synergies in the deck that let me get to that endgame. Some of the noteworthy combinations included:
Humble Defector + Homeward Path
Humble Defector is an interesting card with Zedruu to begin with; it’s a great way to draw two cards, but you have to give it away afterwards. With Zedruu, you get to draw a card every upkeep because someone else controls the Defector… unless someone gives it back to you. Homeward Path removes the drawback of Humble Defector by returning it to your control after you give it away. Additionally, Homeward Path can help reset things if you end up giving away too many creatures (or if someone steals YOUR creatures).
Jinxed Choker + Witchbane Orb
Lightning Berserker + Djinn of Infinte Deceits
Flamewright + Puca’s Mischief
Willbreaker + Most of the Deck…
As fun as those combinations are, my personal favourite is Willbreaker with Descent of the Dragons; it’s important to note that Descent destroys any number of TARGET creatures, then the CONTROLLER of each of those creatures creates a 4/4 Dragon. By the time the spell resolves, Willbreaker has taken control of all of the targetted creatures; this means that YOU are the controller of the creatures when they are destroyed. Guess who gets to create the army of 4/4 Dragons? Yep, that’s right. Enjoy your air force. Sneaky, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, despite having these fun little synergies, my Zedruu deck is far from top notch. Like its finishing combo, its mana base is slow and clunky. It should probably run far more mana rocks and should have ways of searching for key cards, but at the end of the day polishing up this deck is a low priority. The deck slows the game down and is generally annoying to play against; while I will happily dig this deck out every once in a while, it’s never going to be my go-to Commander deck, since I don’t usually like frustrating everyone at the table. I will tinker with it every once in a while, but I tend to focus my efforts elsewhere.
Because it’s not one of my top decks, it’s saddled with a lot of hand-me-down cards that I cut from other ones, especially its lands. Unlike a lot of players, who share cards between multiple decks, I prefer to keep each of my decks self-contained, meaning that if I want a Sol Ring in each of my decks, I will need that many copies of Sol Ring. The same is true for Shocklands, Fetchlands, and other ‘good’ mana fixing. It’s not a perfect system, since I either spend a lot to get multiple copies of these cards, or I end up with suboptimal decks. I usually split the difference and buff up a couple of decks, but most of the ones on my shelf get to use old Karoo-style lands and Gates instead. Still, of all of my decks, I feel like having an awkward mana base here is somewhat fitting; it’s a deck filled with awful cards, so naturally its lands would be bad, too. On the bright side, it does make the deck look a lot less threatening, which is useful when you need to convince other people at the table to focus on attacking each other while you sit back and bide your time.
From joke to reality, I must admit that I’m glad I put together a Zedruu deck of my own. If you’ve never made a deck like this sort before, you really should give it a try; you’ll find all sorts of weird cards you’d never consider playing anywhere else. There are so many possibilites, too! It’s staggering just how many truly terrible cards have been printed over the years, but finding a way to make them useful is remarkably satisfying. Of the many options: Geist-Fueled Scarecrow, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Grid Monitor… Starting with a similar lock-down plan to mine, you might end up with a completely different deck; I’m sure there are better bad-cards I could have used, too!