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The Detail's in the Devil



I keep hearing how Jumpstart is such a weird product that's not for enfranchised players and it's awkward to release a set where they're trying to pull new players in to the LGS during a pandemic but I have to be honest - I'm a highly enfranchised player and I couldn't be more excited by this set. Jumpstart has a huge pile of valuable reprints, support for neglected tribes and it has a swath of exciting commanders. Inniaz is the most 75% card printed in the year 2020, first of all. Secondly, WotC called my bluff hard by making a playable Unicorn commander. I used to joke that lore matters so little to competitive players that Wizards could make a set that was all Unicorns and competitive players would buy more boosters than ever if the Unicorns were all playable. That wasn't to denigrate the noble and majestic Unicorn race, but rather to point out that a segment of the population would buy a set no matter what because the mechanics are what they value. Lo and behold, we get a playable Unicorn and I'm stoked to build around it.

It's not a Unicorn about which I want to talk today, but something that is basically the opposite of a Unicorn. Unicorns are mystical, quadrupedal, non-humanoid creatures whose blood has healing properties and who Lisa Frank featured in nearly 40% of her '90s Trapper Keeper designs. Meanwhile, I want to talk about bipedal, humanoid creatures who have never been on a Trapper Keeper and whose blood is probably acid or Mountain Dew or Twitter comments or something equally caustic. I am, of course, referring to Devils.

By the way, I googled "Devils Trapper Keeper" to make sure there was never a Trapper Keeper with a Devil on it and got like 200 pictures of Martin Brodeur. Touché, google. Touché.

"Why Devils?" I'm pretending you asked. "Why tribal at all?" which is a better question. It's quite simple, they printed a card I really like, the third thought I had about that card was how good Tibalt (the other one) would be in it and I was suddenly sold. Who can say no to a deck where Tibalt is good? Best of all, my favorite thing to do in a Red-based 75% deck (Threaten their creatures and sac them rather than give them back) works astonishingly well with this commander. I'm sure you know who I mean already but for those who aren't current with all Jumpstart has to offer, let's take a look at our new pitchfork enthusiast.

Zurzoth, Chaos Rider

Now THIS is a card. We can punish them for drawing extra cards, we can MAKE them draw extra cards and we can tear apart their hand with random discarding. Best of all, the Devils we create can turn into pinpoint removal. If you can increase the amount of damage they deal, they can be a significant deterrent to attackers if you leave them back to block or have a card like Goblin Bombardment. Since these effects aren't as powerful as a card like Muldrotha, or Oloro or even Inniaz and Mono-Red tends to struggle in Commander, we're going to need to really play to our strengths here.

Since sacrificing our Devils is fun and powerful, we'll want to load up with sac outlets. If we do that, it makes a lot of sense to take as many of their creatures as we can, so we'll do our usual Threaten shenanigans and run our usual Helm of Possession, Mimic Vat, and Captivating Crew nonsense. We'll keep plenty of mana to activate the Crew because we'll be throwing Devils onto the Altars Ashnod and Phyrexian to get those sweet damage triggers

I know I love to run a ton of Enchantments in Commander, but I think I want to lean into Artifacts a bit more than usual with this build because we'll be discarding a lot of cards at random and Artifacts are much easier for Red decks to get back. If we are OK with a few cards ending up in the yard, we can run Feldon shenanigans and we can run Feldon's Cane and those are both fine. Goblins Engineer and Welder can juggle things between the 'yard and play and make sure our useful cards don't wind up stranded out of reach due to an unlucky discard. We'll usually have a full grip, also, because I plan to run a few underrated Howling Mine effects in this deck - Temple Bell and Geier Reach Sanitarium and maybe even some dorky cards like Howling Golem are much better in a deck like this where we need them to draw an extra card on your turn rather than their own. Crucible of Worlds can rescue the Sanitarium if it ends up in the bin and you can also keep bringing back an artifact land to sac to Goblin Welder like in the good old days. This deck is basically building itself because we have relied on a lot of these tricks before.

One thing that is new is the notion that we should take some steps to protect ourselves from discarding at all. Throwing a powerful artifact in the bin to Welder back is cute but not reliable so I would rather use Welder for recursion and try to avoid pitching anything useful. This allows us to run a lot of Enchantments like I like to do. Library of Leng, a card I cracked in the very first deck I ever bought and have never used in a deck even once in the last 24 years works well here, and a newer card, Bag of Holding, will help insulate us from the damage our own chaos effects can do to our strategies. I thought about a Scrap Mastery build, and that's certainly something we could try, but I think it's really bad if we don't get a Library or Bag to ensure we don't bin our Daretti or Mastery since Red struggles to get cards back and I'd have to resort to Elixir of Immortality and other cards like that.

We don't need to run any Devils if we don't want to, but more Devils means more chances to trigger Zurzoth when we attack. Besides, 1/1 tokens aren't terribly scary but if you have a bunch of them, suddenly Coat of Arms and Shared Animosity make them very threatening. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator suddenly doesn't look so bad. In fact, Tibalt taught me how much fun these Devils' ability to deal damage on death can be and how it really changes how your opponents do combat math. I picked it a lot in Draft and was never disappointed. Cards like Hellrider and Fiendish Duo were going to find their way into the deck whether they were Devils or not, but searching Scryfall for every Devil ever uncovered some very spicy tech for this deck. A new card in Core Set 2021, Havoc Jester is an excellent candidate for a Quietus Spike. I'd like to say the same thing about Spiteful Prankster, but Prankster could actually wipe the whole board with Quietus Spike if he were worded differently so maybe it's just fine that he doesn't work that way. He still goes into the deck, because damage is damage even if you "have" to go to the face with it.

We are going to build a pile of these small, 1 damage triggers and double all of them. Cavalcade of Calamity is pretty weak in Commander, but when you also have a Raid Bombardment and a Torbran in play, those things add up and you can take a significant chunk out of someone's life total before the creatures themselves even assign their damage. Impact Tremors and Purphoros will deal quite a bit of damage when 3 Devils come into play whenever you tap Temple Bell. A lot of what I'm describing, I'm just now realizing, is probably a stock Zurzoth deck. Lest I give off the impression that I think I thought of this, we can probably just cut it off here, right? I'll throw up the decklist, we'll take a look at what we end up with and I can defend my card choices rather than continuing to wax philosophical about the cards everyone is including in every Zurzoth deck. Like, I have my own spin on it, with the artifact subtheme and the Threaten subtheme, so let's trust you to take my word for it that I did some work on this deck.

Here's the Zurzoth deck I would go with.

I mentioned a possible direction the deck could go would be a sort of Scrap Mastery build. You would cut HEAVILY into your Devils maindeck, but that is fine. I've already cut heavily from Instants and Sorceries, but a few of my "pet" cards to make this play like a 75% deck could go away and you could go very heavy into Artifacts. You would use Library of Leng to make sure your combo pieces that weren't Artifacts didn't get binned, but you would otherwise dredge yourself quite heavily. You'd want to always be attacking to fill your graveyard and always be drawing. Some cards that build would benefit from are Alhamarrat's Archive, Throne of the God-Pharaoh, Wurmcoil Engine, Thopter Assembly, Daretti, Scrap Savant, Scarecrone, Myr Battlesphere, Feldon of the Third Path, and, of course, Scrap Mastery. You can run more cards like Goblin Lore. This would basically end up being close to a Daretti, Scrap Savant deck but with much better use of tokens as you have damage doublers to make your Goblin Bombardment activations really sting. You'll have access to more tokens this way as your commander would give you a steady stream of Devils. We are part of the way there because I recognize how impactful a few Goblins will be in a deck like this to make sure we get Library of Leng or Geth's Grimoire early and be able to bring them back.

There are a few Instants and Sorceries that produce Devil tokens and if you want to go deeper into a tribal build, we have options. We could add Coat of Arms, Herald's Horn, Devils like Bedlam Reveler and Flayer of the Hatebound and we should look at a few Enchantments like Gratuitous Violence and Repercussion and Mana Echoes. I don't advocate this build, either, but it could get pretty powerful if you stack a few tribal effects and swing with a pile of 5 power creatures who will do 10 damage if they hit and 3 damage if they die.

I tried my best to keep the average CMC down, but the deck may benefit from Mana Echoes just for the sake of the mana you'll make precombat with Devil triggers from Temple Bell or Mikokoro. The deck is very mana-hungry and though I cut some 7 mana creatures like Angrath's Marauders, you'll still want to think about your mana. Dreamstone Hedron is a possibility since we can Welder it back to draw a lot when we no longer need the mana and we might want to consider cards like Gauntlets of Power, Culling Sun, or Extraplanar Lens. Once you get a Captivating Crew to stick, you'll wish you had all the mana in the world. Remember, Captivating Crew says you gain control of the creature until the end of the turn and that means you have to give it back if it's still alive. Why not fling the corpse at them and send your regrets instead?

That does it for me this week. This is somewhat of a departure from our typical fare but I feel like I put enough of a 75% spin on it that it should play well in any setting. People may underestimate your "cute" commander at first, so make sure they regret it. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to pick a fight in the comments section. Until next time!

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