I’ve decided to broaden my Commander deckbuilding horizons a bit today. My favorite part of building Commander decks is finding sweet synergies and fun
cards that interact directly with the legend I’ve picked as my commander. But then I run across people who have built theme decks outside of tribal
synergies, and the small and neglected Vorthos side of me squeals in glee. So while I pondered the next Commander deck I wanted to build and was looking
over the recent legends that have gotten printed, I took a second look at Zurgo Bellstriker.
I was a big fan of Zurgo Helmsmasher for Commander and
actually presented two vastly different decks when I did my Commander write-up for him
. He’s a big bad dude… at least he was before Sarkhan went back in time and meddled with history! He went from being the nasty and potent Khan of the Mardu
clan to being a just a bell-ringer for the Kolaghan clan. That’s not to say the Kolaghan clan don’t appreciate some dulcet tones to stir them for battle,
but the new Zurgo is a far cry different from the old Zurgo! So in honor of this totally different Zurgo from this totally different timeline, I decided to
do something totally different and make flavor a heavy consideration when assembling this deck.
You Can Ring My Bell, My Bell
Okay, so my commander is Zurgo Bellstriker. Besides being a mono-red deck, what else do I put in it? Well, listening to my inner Vorthos, I decided to plug
in “Bell” into the card database, checking off red and colorless and seeing what comes up. All but one of the cards that come up aren’t exactly cards I’d
ever consider putting into a Commander deck, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. The Kolaghan clan demands some bells be struck, and who is Zurgo to
disappoint them? They want bells, they’re gonna have bells!
This little artifact costs just one mana and provides a tiny effect, one that’s even tinier in a format where people are playing 100-card decks. Still,
look at that picture and read that flavor text-that certainly seems like the sort of bell a red/black clan would want to sound!
Even if it’s unlikely you’ll be decking anyone, being able to mill a card from everyone’s library on demand can be mildly useful, especially if people are
using things like Worldly Tutor or Volrath’s Stronghold to put something specific on top of their deck. We can go a little further though, play something
like Lantern of Insight so we can see what cards everyone’s going to be drawing next, and if someone’s drawing something the rest of the table doesn’t want
to see, ring Ghoulcaller’s Bell to have everyone mill a card into the graveyard. To make the peek a little more directed – and to see a little deeper – we
can play with Orcish Spy, who also has the flavorific bonus of being an orc like Zurgo! We can also use the Bell to clear off the top of our library if
it’s getting clogged with unneeded cards while we spin Sensei’s Divining Top or activate Orcish Librarian (look ma, another orc!).
Adrian Sullivan would be so proud I’m playing Orcish Librarian…
Reading the flavor text of Temple Bell, I don’t think it necessarily fits in with what the Kolaghan horde is all about-“enlightenment” and “silence” aren’t
words that immediately come to mind when thinking about orcs and goblins and dragons. Still, it’s a bell, and it’s actually a very playable bell in
Commander, and it can also play well in the other direction with the cards we talked about under Ghoulcaller’s Bell–Lantern of Insight can let us know when
it’s okay for everyone to draw a card, and when it’s not. On the Vorthos side, I think I’ll consider this bell as one that was plundered from an Ojutai
temple, and Zurgo rings it to remind everyone of that sweet bloody conquest.
The artwork of Junkyo Bell brings to mind Jeskai (or rather, Ojutai) instead of Kolaghan, but if you look at what the card does and stretch things a bit…
maybe the picture is depicting prisoner monks that are helping one particular creature be powerful enough to die a glorious death in battle? That could fit
a Zurgo Bellstriker storyline. It’s a shame this triggers during your upkeep because it would be nice to use red’s plethora of temporary steal effects
(mostly sorceries) to take a creature, pump it up with Junkyo Bell, and then sacrifice it rather than give it back to your opponent. At any rate, I can see
this bell sometimes giving a nice boost to one of our creatures to swing in at an opponent, maybe even Zurgo himself-and he’s so cheap you can easily
recast him from the command zone.
Then there’s Kormus Bell. No flavor text, and nothing in the picture beyond a funky bell hanging from the sky. How does this bell animate swamps into
creatures? Not entirely sure, and animating swamps into creatures sounds more Sultai/Silumgar than Kolaghan, but hey, we’ve gone this far with the Bells we
can’t stop now.
So what in the world do we do with Kormus Bell? Other than cackling evilly when the mono-black player with infinite board wipes chokes on his Mountain Dew
when you play it, can we do anything with this? Interestingly, there are two red cards that actually turn lands into swamps! Say hello to Slimy Kavu and
Orcish Farmer… and look, another orc! It’s like we’ve got a Zurgo family reunion going on in this deck. We can also use Mystic Compass to do something
similar. I don’t actually own a Cyclopean Tomb, but if I did, it would definitely belong in this deck. It’s a bit expensive, but I might see if I can find
one. What’s nice about this combo with Kormus Bell is that we can punish players that are playing creature sweepers by turning one of their crucial lands
into a Swamp so it dies to their sweeper. Sure, we can’t push this into a devastating move like Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, but again, beggars can’t be
choosers. One thing we can do though is play Pyrohemia, so we can pick off one land per turn-a nice way to counteract someone who’s going crazy with mana
ramp, with apologies to the black deck.
And hey-if someone’s playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth? Well, at least little Zurgo is easy to cast for not much mana!
Echoes of Another Time
Okay, so we’ve got a bunch of bells for Zurgo to strike. There are still a bunch of other deck slots to fill! We know Zurgo has the potential in him to be
a badass… what if we give him the tools in this deck to realize the potential he reached in the original timeline? That could be fun, right? Build your own
The original Zurgo had a face-smashing seven power but with just a two toughness, and there’s just one piece of equipment that can turn Zurgo Bellstriker
from a 2/2 to a 7/2-Ogre’s Cleaver! The mana cost and equip cost is clunky, but you know it’s going to feel good when Zurgo makes that transformation. I
also tossed in Hero’s Blade; 5/4 is no 7/2, but in my mind, I envision Zurgo picking up this blade and feeling an echo from the other time and the other
orc he could have been.
Between artifacts, red cards (and even a land or two), this is a pretty easy thing to add to the deck. I ended up nabbing Jawbone Skulkin because it felt
like something an orc shaman of the Kolaghan clan would put together. Break Through the Line is a nifty enchantment for little Zurgo to get his beats on,
and you can activate it before loading him up with equipment to make him unblockable. Then there’s Crimson Mage, Lightning Mauler, Ring of Valkas, Anger,
Flamekin Village, and Hall of the Bandit Lord, not to mention Zurgo’s own dash ability.
This isn’t quite as easy to pull off in red, and so the only way I’ve got for him to become indestructible is Darksteel Plate in my deck. I thought about
Eldrazi Monument, but I don’t really have a bunch of token generators to reliably feed it.
Attacks each combat if able.
This one’s easy-if little Zurgo is feeling like a Helmsmasher, then just turn him sideways!
Speaking of smashing helms, I thought I’d sprinkle some Helms in the deck to call out to Zurgo’s potential– Prowler’s Helm, Champion’s Helm (between
Hero’s Blade and Champion’s Helm our little fellow will surely be feeling his Helmsmashing self!), and Helm of Possession. Batterskull fits in here simply
because that’s what happens when helms get smashed!
I also decided to toss in a Timesifter because it fits-little Zurgo is what happens when someone sifts through time from big Zurgo’s perspective and
muddies up the place. It also happens to have decent synergies with some of the cards I talked about under Ghoulcaller’s Bell.
… I Mean, Red Fun
Alright, so after layering in all the sweet Vorthos flavor of Zurgo Bellstriker into the deck, I found that I still had quite a few other card slots
available. Outside of the usual workhorse Commander cards like Sol Ring and Wheel of Fortune, I wanted to keep the Vorthos spirit alive by putting in some
of red’s fun and crazy cards. There’s the new Humble Defector, drawing cards and getting passed around the table. Impact Resonance and Arcbond are two I’m
looking forward to surprising people with. Wild Ricochet, Radiate, and Reversal of Fortune are classics that I haven’t gamed with in a while. Mogg
Infestation is a hilarious way to bring several board-threatening creatures down to a more reasonable size. And I can’t wait to see the sort of work that
newish cards Mob Rule, Descent of the Dragons, Volcanic Vision, and Commune with Lava can do!
With all the artifacts, I’m definitely looking forward to shenanigans with Trading Post and Goblin Welder, and maybe I’ll get a free win by unexpectedly
stealing a bunch of artifacts with a suddenly hasty Hellkite Tyrant.
Yeah, this is gonna be fun!
- 1 Mogg Maniac
- 1 Anger
- 1 Orcish Spy
- 1 Goblin Welder
- 1 Orcish Farmer
- 1 Orcish Librarian
- 1 Slimy Kavu
- 1 Homura, Human Ascendant
- 1 Jawbone Skulkin
- 1 Crimson Mage
- 1 Lightning Mauler
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Humble Defector
- 1 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 1 Strip Mine
- 20 Mountain
- 1 Smoldering Crater
- 1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
- 1 Hall of the Bandit Lord
- 1 Forgotten Cave
- 1 Tower of the Magistrate
- 1 High Market
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Kher Keep
- 1 Grixis Panorama
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Naya Panorama
- 1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
- 1 Inkmoth Nexus
- 1 Homeward Path
- 1 Cathedral of War
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Arcane Lighthouse
- 1 Flamekin Village
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Cyclopean Tomb
- 1 Kormus Bell
- 1 Inferno
- 1 Mogg Infestation
- 1 Junkyo Bell
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Reversal of Fortune
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Lantern of Insight
- 1 Timesifter
- 1 Mystic Compass
- 1 Cinder Cloud
- 1 Helm of Possession
- 1 Shattering Pulse
- 1 Ghitu War Cry
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Radiate
- 1 Pyrohemia
- 1 Wild Ricochet
- 1 Blade of the Bloodchief
- 1 Ogre's Cleaver
- 1 Crystal Ball
- 1 Temple Bell
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Batterskull
- 1 Acorn Catapult
- 1 Champion's Helm
- 1 Druidic Satchel
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Ghoulcaller's Bell
- 1 Ring of Valkas
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Prowler's Helm
- 1 Tempt with Vengeance
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Impact Resonance
- 1 Arcbond
- 1 Break Through the Line
- 1 Hero's Blade
- 1 Mob Rule
- 1 Descent of the Dragons
- 1 Commune with Lava
- 1 Volcanic Vision
So there you have it-an exquisitely crafted blend of flavor and function, an unparalleled instrument of epic storytelling! Or at least that was my goal…
considering this is my first stab at “flavor first” deckbuilding, I’m sure there are many improvements to be made. What do you think? Are there any other
Vorthosian elements I missed that scream to be included? How would you go about building a flavorful Zurgo Bellstriker deck?
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
- • Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)