Commander Top 10: Zirda, The Dawnwaker

Bennie Smith builds his next Commander deck around Zirda, the Dawnwaker! What cost-reduction shenanigans is he getting up to?

Zirda, the Dawnwaker, illustrated by Jesper Ejsing

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Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is the gift that just keeps giving for Commander! First I built a sweet Abzan deck with Nethroi, Apex of Death at the helm, and then I wrote an oddly terrifying Rakdos deck featuring Obosh, the Preypiercer. On my Commander deckbuilding stream on Twitch I’ve brewed up decks for Kogla, the Titan Ape; Brokkos, Apex of Forever; and Godzilla, King of the Monsters.  You can find the videos on my YouTube channel

And it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface.  This week, I decided to tap another companion as our commander, this time Zirda, the Dawnwaker!

Aw, what a cute Elemental Fox!  Zirda gives us a nice cost reduction for any cards that have activated abilities that aren’t mana abilities. Which begs the question: what is a mana ability?  Let’s consult the Magic Rules!

Rule 605.1a  says an activated ability is a mana ability if it meets all of the following criteria:

  • It doesn’t have a target.
  • It could add mana to a player’s mana pool when it resolves.
  • It’s not a loyalty ability.

Activated abilities contain a colon. They’re generally written “[Cost]: [Effect].” Some keyword abilities are activated abilities (such as cycling) and will have colons in their reminder text.  When searching for good cards with activated abilities, it turns out there are quite a few of them available, even in our two-color Boros deck.  I think the trick here is not to go too deep into the cost reduction rabbit hole and instead make sure that the cards we pick are at least decent even without the cost reduction but just get so much better with Zirda on the battlefield.  Equipment cards spring to mind, but there are obviously tons of other artifacts, creatures, and lands with cool activated abilities.

Before we dig into our Top 10 list, let me go ahead and get this out of the way.  These two artifacts generate infinite colorless mana with Zirda on the battlefield:

Zirda reduces each of these untap activated abilities to the point that it’s less than the mana the artifact taps for, so we can tap and untap for however much mana we want.  I am personally not going to put either of these in my deck because I’d rather have Zirda do other cool things and grind out fun wins; infinite mana engines are just too easy to pull off.  But if your playgroup wants to play high-powered combo decks, feel free to add these two cards and some tutors to find them.

Okay, let’s get brewing!

1. Staff of Domination

Staff of Domination has long been a great mana sink for huge amounts of mana, but I like how Zirda’s cost reduction makes this card plenty powerful enough without massive amounts of mana.  Three mana to draw a card?  Don’t mind if I do!

I’ve added some other artifacts that have decent activated abilities that become turbo-charged with Zirda.  Retrofitter Foundry does a nice Staff of Domination impression but instead makes a variety of token creatures quite efficiently.  Mirage Mirror continues to impress me in each game it shows up in; being able to activate for just one mana instead of two is going to make it even better. Chaos Wand has made the first draft of a lot of decks, but since the three-mana slot is always so competitive in Commander decks it often gets cut; with Zirda cutting its activation in half I think it absolutely deserves a slot.

2. Sword of Feast and Famine

Equip costs are awesome to reduce, so I’m going to include a fair number of good Equipment cards, and the best of the bunch is Sword of Feast and Famine. Being able to untap your lands after dealing combat damage means that we’re going to be able to use our mana to activate even more discounted activated abilities. And since green is the best color in Commander, that protection ability is incredibly useful.

Helm of the Host is a cool card to have here. Four mana to cast and five mana to equip is a pretty hefty mana investment to balance out a potent effect, but Zirda cuts the equip to three, and then each nonlegendary copy of Zirda you make helps get to the point where any activated ability is only going to cost one mana. 

3. Sunforger

There are a couple of artifacts that have multiple activated abilities, and Sunforger is a slam-dunk inclusion. Its unattach ability can’t be reduced below the red and white mana activation, but reducing the equip cost to one mana means it’s quite viable to activate Sunforger’s ability several times during your turn.

Batterskull is another quality Equipment card that benefits hugely from Zirda’s cost reduction.  Equipping for three mana is quite easy to pull off, and returning Batterskull to your hand to dodge removal is much easier to accomplish for just one mana rather than three.

4. Settle the Wreckage

Since we can really push the limits of Sunforger in a Zirda deck, I want to ensure we have plenty of great targets for Sunforger’s ability, and the best of the bunch is Settle the Wreckage which can absolutely devastate someone who’s trying to kill you with a swarm of attackers or a few huge threats that are otherwise difficult to deal with. 

The rest of the choices cover a lot of ground, and are just great to draw normally too:

5. Soulbright Flamekin

How cool that one of my favorite unplayed gems has made my Top 10 list two weeks in a row!  As good as it was in my Kalamax, the Stormsire deck I wrote about last weekend, it’s even better here with Zirda.  Give a creature trample for just one mana, and when you activate it for the third time you get to add eight red mana to your mana pool.  Three-mana investment, get paid eight mana?  That’s a heckuva return!

Keep in mind that Soulbright Flamekin’s activated ability isn’t a mana ability even if it resolves for the third time because it targets!  Hooray, loopholes!

There are quite a few great creatures with activated abilities that get even better with Zirda’s discount.  Stoneforge Mystic lets you put an Equipment card onto the battlefield for just one white mana, and then you get to equip at a discount too.  Eldrazi Displacer blinks creatures for just one colorless mana.  Soul of New Phyrexia gives all your permanents indestructible for just three mana. 

What’s really cool are the monstrous abilities!  Hundred-Handed One has a super-cool ability when it’s monstrous, but six mana is a lot to invest; four mana sounds much, much better.  Stormbreath Dragon’s monstrous is much better at five mana. 

When Glory is in your graveyard it’s got an ability you can activate, and giving your entire team protection from the color of your choice is amazing for just one white mana!

6. Mirrorpool

There are a lot of lands with cool abilities that we’d likely run anyway, but discounting the abilities makes them even more incredible. Mirrorpool is one of my all-time favorite cards and being able to shave two mana off either of its abilities is super-exciting!  Don’t forget, copying Zirda in response to someone targeting it with a removal spell is a nice way to keep leveraging Zirda’s discount.

Conqueror’s Galleon starts off as a Vehicle, but once it transforms into Conqueror’s Foothold that’s when things get really awesome with Zirda.  For one mana tap, draw a card, and then discard a card; for two mana, tap and draw a card; and for four mana, tap and return a card from your graveyard to your hand. That is some serious value there, folks! 

7. Mother of Runes

We’ll want plenty of ways to interact with our opponents, even if they don’t get a special discount from Zirda, and the best of the bunch is Mother of Runes.  Nothing changes the calculus of your opponents’ pinpoint removal spells, their attacking or blocking schemes, like an untapped Mother of Runes, and the longer you can keep Zirda around, the more advantage you can crank out of the mana discount.

Magus of the Balance has been growing on me in white decks that don’t have green as a way to push back on decks that go too crazy on land ramp, or draw way too many cards, or generate a ton of creatures.  Knocking the activated ability from five to three mana with Zirda definitely makes it much more palatable.

8. Dawn of Hope

There are some enchantments with activated abilities we can put in our Boros deck that benefit from Zirda’s discount, and the first one I put in the deck is Dawn of Hope.  Zirda discounts the activated ability by two mana, which just happens to be the cost of the triggered ability to draw a card—how efficient and wonderful!

The other card is Aggravated Assault. Sure, it’s a combo with Sword of Feast and Famine for nearly unlimited attack steps, but even without Sword of Feast and Famine, discounting the ability from five to just three means we can squeeze out more attack steps when the coast is clear.

9. Oath of Lieges

For mana ramp, I’m including a lot of the usual suspects we have available for a nongreen deck, but one card in particular I really like is Oath of Lieges. This card lets anyone who’s not land ramping hard keep up with the green decks that are ramping hard, and definitely helps makes some allies between the haves (green) and the have-nots (nongreen). I’m including Lotus Field as one of my lands to ensure that I will always get to leverage Oath of Lieges for some extra ramp. 

Burnished Hart, Hedron Archive, and Dreamstone Hedron have activated abilities that are incredible with Zirda’s discount.

10. Wrath of God

Last but not least, we need removal spells, and the best of the bunch is Wrath of God. It’s not splashy or flashy, but it gets the job done.  So do the rest of the usual suspects:

If Kami of Ancient Law looks a little odd, I just like having some extra ways to kill super-annoying enchantments like Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe.

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Zirda, the Dawnwaker
Bennie Smith
0th Place at Test deck on 05-16-2020

Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  If you see any new cards from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths or Commander 2020 that should find a home here, let me know!

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do a deckbuilding stream every Monday evening, and pepper in some other Commander-related streams when I can.  If you can join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!


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