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Commander Compare And Contrast: Zedruu The Greathearted

Bennie Smith brings back Commander Compare and Contrast with Emma Handy and Zedruu the Greathearted! Check out their wildly different approaches to the suspiciously generous Minotaur!

Hello, and welcome to the next installment of Commander Compare and Contrast! In these columns I’ll be reaching out to various other Magic Community members, ask them the favorite commander they currently have a deck built around, build my own version and then bump it against their build. I think it’ll be fun and illuminating to see where we come down on the same card choices and where we differ.

This week, we’re going to take a look at Emma Handy’s Zedruu the Greathearted deck!

You’ll probably recognize Emma from her writing here on Star City Games, where she chronicles her adventures playing competitive tournament Magic and lays down top-notch strategy. Recently she’s made the jump to commentary for the SCG Tour, where her expert knowledge clues us in to what’s going down on screen. It was listening to Emma between rounds not long ago when I found out that she’s actually been a long-time Commander fan and I immediately wanted to do a compare and contrast of her deck.

When I found out her favorite current Commander deck was Zedruu the Greathearted I was incredibly excited! Zedruu is definitely one of the most unusual commanders out there, and it has been a long time since I built my own Zedruu deck. I couldn’t wait to see how we might differ in our approaches. Zedruu has a pretty straightforward ability—give your opponent a card that you own, either with Zedruu’s ability or some other way, and each upkeep you’ll profit in extra cards and life.

The beauty of Zedruu, though, is that you can take radically different approaches to utilizing these abilities. One approach is a classic group hug approach, where you push resources over to an opponent that you want to help, scoring some political points, while you also get some benefit. Another approach is to play a card with a serious drawback and then push it over to an opponent you want to hose. A card like Aggressive Mining.

Most players don’t really have too many built-in ways to function well with cards like this on their battlefield, so pushing these to opponents make for a potent strategy. It also makes for some miserable opponents, and that’s not generally the sort of Commander I like to play, so I’m going to steer clear of most of those sorts of cards. I think my approach is going to be more of a Jeskai good stuff deck where I can donate control of cards that don’t really care who controls them so I can gain some incremental advantage. Yeah, slow and grindy, the way Magic is supposed to be played.

I wonder what Emma decided to do? Here’s her deck:

Zedruu the Greathearted
Emma Handy
0th Place at Test deck on 03-26-2019
Commander

Here’s the Zedruu deck I cooked up before I took a look at Emma’s take:

Zedruu the Greathearted
Bennie Smith
0th Place at Test deck on 03-26-2019
Commander


Well, well, well. Check out these decks! The cool thing is that Emma didn’t go the “donate my opponents heinously oppressive permanents” either, but her deck is quite a bit different from mine! Using my Excel-Fu, I’ve crunched the decklists together to see what cards we have in common and which ones are different, so let’s dig in, starting with the cards we have in common!

Lands in Common

No surprises here—good mana-fixing is good! I like that we’re both on the same page with the scry lands; I know some Commander players don’t like them because they enter the battlefield tapped, but I’m a big fan of attaching free scry triggers to smooth out awkward draws that you can sometimes get in a 100-card singleton format.

Card Draw in Common

Humble Defector is a slam-dunk inclusion in a Zedruu deck, letting you tap to draw two cards, and then you give it to an opponent and you’ll get to draw cards and gain life from it thanks to Zedruu’s triggered ability.

And that’s it on the card draw we both have? Not that we need too many additional card draw effects if we lean into Zedruu’s ability.

Control in Common

And we only have Negate in common for control?

Mana Ramp in Common

These two are definitely Commander staples here, but with just two ramp spells in common it’ll be interesting to see where we diverged!

Removal in Common

Swords to Plowshares and Supreme Verdict are premium removal spells in this color combination, so it’s no surprise we both are running them. Act of Authority is another slam-dunk inclusion for Zedruu, since the second use of it gives control of the enchantment to an opponent and then you get a Zedruu trigger!

Okay, let’s take a look at where we differ!

Differences – Lands

Emma:

Oh, nice Volcanic Island dual land, Emma! I used to have a Tropical Island back in the day, but ended up selling it to pay some bills. I do pepper in the dual lands I still have left in decks where I can, since they’re so awesome. Field of Ruin is an interesting choice that’s much friendlier than something like Strip Mine or Wasteland, but it does help fix your colors, which is helpful in a three-color deck.

Myriad Landscape is a card I don’t really think of for a three-color deck, but Emma’s is very heavily blue, so it makes sense that she’d search up two Islands.

Then… then there’s Temple of the False God. Which should never, ever, ever be in any deck ever. Seriously. I laid out my most excellent reasonings in this outstanding article of mine: Let’s Talk About Lands. All y’all need to stop playing this card.

Unless I’m missing some light tribal synergies, I’m assuming Cavern of Souls is there to ensure Zedruu hits the battlefield whether your opponents want it to or not.

Bennie:

I’ve pushed harder on the colored mana-fixing than Emma because my deck is more interested in balancing the colors so I can perhaps get several activations by Zedruu in a turn. In the article about lands above, I talked about how Path of Ancestry should be an auto-include for any three- or more-color deck whether or not you have any sort of tribal stuff going on. I also like the creature-lands, since they can give you something to do even after several battlefield wipes, which is especially useful when taking down meddlesome planeswalkers.

I’ve included Homeward Path as a way to get back any creatures you’ve given away with Zedruu for emergency situations where you find that you may need them. An opposing Homeward Path can make your Zedruu activations a little awkward, and people do play with Thespian’s Stage and Vesuva, so I’m not entirely sure running Homeward Path is the smartest play, but I’m sticking with it for now.

Differences – Card Draw

Emma:

Emma very clearly is leaning hard into the controlling side of Jeskai with heavy blue, so Zedruu activations will be relatively few. She’s got a fair number of traditional control-style card draw spells like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Dictate of Kruphix, along with some Looting-style cards like Jeskai Ascendancy and Baral, Chief of Compliance. Sensei’s Divining Top helps you dig a little deeper and synergizes nicely with any deck shuffling effects.

Wild Research is a super-cool inclusion that I didn’t even think of, and with a hand full of cards, the random discard drawback won’t bite you too often.

Bennie:

Outside of Commander favorites like Skullclamp and Magus of the Wheel, I leaned into permanent sources of global card-drawing that I can donate to opponents with Zedruu and get the Zedruu triggers from, like Font of Mythos. I also picked up some early sources of card drawing like Wall of Omens that I can give away later to squeeze out even more value.

Nezahal, Primal Tide synergizes well with the general plan of drawing cards and not dying, and provides a pretty good threat to try to wrap up the game.

Differences – Control

Emma:

Whoa! Now this very clearly illustrates that Emma is very interested in playing a control game here. If you sit down against her, make sure you’re in for the long haul! I’m not usually the biggest fan of too many counterspells in Commander that don’t have other modes or card draw attached, but the fact that she’s playing a Zedruu deck with a constant flow of extra cards means she’s better able to afford to cast one-for-one control cards. Then there’s Counterbalance, which does evil things in conjunction with Sensei’s Divining Top!

Take a look at that Torpor Orb! That’s going to put a hurting on the very popular approach in Commander of running lots of creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects, ouch!

Bennie:

My control suite is more modest, so I’ll be holding onto them for emergencies and to keep my opponents honest. I am a blue deck, after all. Zealous Conscripts has a fun enters-the-battlefield effect that can result in a big turn, and the body can later be donated to an opponent for Zedruu triggers.

Differences – Mana Ramp

Emma:

Like any good control deck, Emma’s build runs plenty of mana ramp to ensure she can keep up with all but the most degenerate green ramp decks. Commander’s Sphere and Hedron Archive are particularly nice here since you can cash them in for cards later on when you don’t really need the mana. Coalition Relic and Gilded Lotus help Emma ensure she has plenty of blue mana at all parts of the game.

Bennie:

I went with Chromatic Lantern to help fix my colored mana across all three colors to better enable more activations from Zedruu. Fellwar Stone is a good early mana rock and the odds are generally good that your opponents will be playing at least one of your colors, if not all three. Kor Cartographer comes down to ramp your Plains count and leaves behind a body you can donate with Zedruu, while Coveted Jewel provides incentives for players to come and take it, which is okay since you’ll get Zedruu triggers.

Differences – Removal

Emma:

Much like her control suite, Emma has tons of removal spells, including more one-for-one removal spells and even some tempo plays like Wipe Away and Hurkyl’s Recall, which is fine here since Zedruu provides a steady stream of cards. To facilitate that, Emma runs some permanent-based removal like Detention Sphere and Quarantine Field, which can be donated with Zedruu after they’ve done their damage.

Vedalken Shackles looks odd in a three-color deck, but remember that Emma is running a very heavy blue deck with tons of Islands, so it should do good work in stealing smaller creatures.

Bennie:

I’ve got a strong suite of Commander-friendly removal spells here like Imprisoned in the Moon, Vandalblast, and Blasphemous Act. Archangel Avacyn can be a fun surprise, and when it flips it’ll sweep away hordes of small creatures quite nicely.

Gilded Drake is of course a super-cool card in a Zedruu deck, stealing the best creature on the battlefield while giving an opponent a 3/3 flier you can get Zedruu triggers from. Just expect that the Gilded Drake will likely be attacking you from then on, but that’s okay—your life total should be just fine.

Differences – Major Theme

Emma: Planeswalker Control

One thing Emma leans heavily into that I don’t is having planeswalkers, which certainly makes sense given how much control she has in her deck. When you’re able to keep the battlefield clear of threats, planeswalkers make an excellent source of long-term advantage. Contagion Engine lets Emma quickly advance planeswalker loyalty.

Bennie: Auras

I went heavily into an Aura theme. My thinking is there are a lot of good Auras that don’t necessarily set you up for a loss of card advantage, but then you can donate control of them to an opponent for Zedruu triggers without really giving the opponent any value. For most Auras, once they’re on a creature, it doesn’t matter who controls the enchantment.

I can get some recursion going with Hanna, Ship’s Navigator; Nomad Mythmaker; Starfield of Nyx; and Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Difference – Good Stuff

Emma:

This is a catch-all for the cards that don’t otherwise fall into the prior groupings. Drake Haven takes advantage of some of Emma’s looting abilities sprinkled throughout the deck, as well as having to discard to hand size, which can add up to a formidable air force over time.

I’m not entirely sure what Pull from Eternity is here for. Maybe someone she plays Commander with frequently runs a Jhoira of the Ghitu deck?

Bennie:

My collection of random stuff here serves several functions. Cards like Mother of Runes and Lena, Selfless Champion help protect Zedruu from removal spells. Daring Thief provides a nice repeatable way to swap permanents for Zedruu triggers. Monastery Mentor can churn out a small army of chump blockers that can potentially become quite threatening with enough prowess triggers. Radiate plus Etali, Primal Storm is just good clean fun!

So tell me, which approach to Zedruu do you like best? Emma’s heavy control style? My more grindy approach? Or are you more of an Aggressive Mining fan?

Be sure to check out Emma’s excellent strategy content here on Star City Games, and keep an eye out for her expert coverage on the SCG Tour!

Speaking of Twitter, make sure you’re following me over there too since I tweet a lot about Commander! And right now I’m building a Commander deck with votes from the Magic community over Twitter, follow the hashtag #TwitterBuiltCMDR.

Do me a solid and subscribe to my channel too! I’m posting Top 5 cards from many of my Star City Games columns as a preview for each article, but I plan on adding other content too. Also, I’ve gotten some cool video editing software that I’m slowly learning, so the video quality will improve as I learn better techniques.

Deck Database

Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January 2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith” and the commander name into Google and it should pop right up. I’ve written a lot about Commander — and Magic in general — so if you want to explore further, the Star City Games article archives have my articles all the way back to January 2000!

Ravnica Allegiance

The Haunt of Hightower, Teysa Karlov, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rakdos, the Showstopper, Nikya of the Old Ways, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Judith, the Scourge Diva

SCG CON Winter 2018

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, Grothama, All-Devouring; Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis; Feldon of the Third Path; Ramos, Dragon Engine; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Brago, King Eternal

Ultimate Masters

Garna, the Bloodflame

Guilds of Ravnica

Niv Mizzet, Parun, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments), Tajic, Legion’s Edge, Etrata, the Silencer, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Commander 2018

Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, Lord Windgrace, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

Core Set 2019

Sai, Master Thopterist, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma, Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, Chromium, the Mutable

Battlebond

Grothama, All-Devouring

Dominaria

Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, Grand Warlord Radha, Arvad the Cursed, Muldrotha, the Grave Tide, Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, Squee, the Immortal, Firesong and Sunspeaker, Jodah, Archmage Eternal, Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker

Masters 25

Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

Rivals of Ixalan

Azor, the Lawbringer, Etali, Primal Storm, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Zacama, Primal Calamity, Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Unstable

Grusilda, Monster Masher, Dr. Julius Jumblemorph

Ixalan

Vona, Butcher of Magan, Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Admiral Beckett Brass, Gishath, Sun’s Avatar

Commander 2017

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Mairsil, the Pretender, Taigam, Ojutai Master

Hour of Devastation

Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Zur, the Enchanter (Mummy’s Curse), Djeru, With Eyes Open, The Locust God, Karona, False God (All the Deserts), Nicol Bolas, Neheb, the Eternal

Amonkhet

Oketra the True, Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, Atogatog (Cartouches & Trials), Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Rhonas the Indomitable, Hazoret the Fervent

Kaladesh Block

Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Nicol Bolas, Child of Alara (Five-Color Energy), Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Sram, Senior Edificer

Commander 2016

Breya, Etherium Shaper, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender

Other Commander Decks

The Ultimate Golgari Deck, Anafenza, the Foremost (shutting down shenanigans), Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (no green creatures), Kytheon, Hero of Akros (Tribal Gideon), Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Commander Strategy

Commander Compare & Contrast: Feldon of the Third Path,

Let’s Talk About Lands

Who Should I Attack?

Targeted Removal in Commander