Strixhaven Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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75% – Gaming


It’s a four-person game. A friend is playing my 75% Mayael deck, I’m playing Vorel of the Hull Clade, someone is playing Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, and someone we’ve never played with before is playing Zedruu the Greathearted. I have some pretty big Hydras going, and with Illusionist's Bracers on Vorel and a Strionic Resonator in play, I’m poised to make them even bigger. I have a trampler big enough to kill each player locked and loaded, and all I need to do is untap and go to Beatface Town.

The Zedruu player looks at his watch and says, “Will someone just attack me? I have to get home.” The Prossh player shrugs, winds up, and swings at him for a good chunk of damage, taking him from 48 to 19. Zedruu says, “Thanks,” untaps, plays Transcendence, and looks over at my board. With that, I’m boned. The Zedruu pillow-fort deck that everyone was ignoring had a hidden haymaker out of nowhere. His life total went below 20, so he can play it and donate it to make anyone he wants dead. I look like a very tempting target. Despite not provoking him, he gives me a Transcendence, and the game is over for me.

Had I known this was coming, I obviously would have not played so “nice,” and I would have trampled him into powder a turn earlier. However, Zedruu decks have a reputation for being a little durdly, a little pillow-forty, and a little silly. Granted, killing someone with Transcendence is both durdly and silly, but you can’t argue against its efficacy.

In a way, Zedruu decks are the opposite of decks like Nekusar, the Mindrazer and Rafiq of the Many. It’s pretty simple to make a 75% Rafiq deck, but you probably shouldn’t bother because you’re going to be automatically treated as hostile. Your normal playgroup will know your deck well enough that you don’t need to play a 75% deck against them if you play them often enough, and strangers won’t know that you’ve built 75%, and they will probably kill you before you have enough mana to play a spell that doesn’t normally show up in Rafiq to tip them off. Conversely, people tend to think Zedruu decks are a little cuter. They expect to be donated something like Thought Lash or Pyromancer's Swath, which will annoy them. Sometimes, though, you can fly under the radar, especially if you are playing mostly durdly stuff the whole game before you suddenly explode. So, how easy is a 75% Zedruu deck anyway?

A reader sent me a list to look at and possibly suggest improvements for. He goes by /u/Admiral_Nobeard on reddit. Could a few minor tweaks be all that it takes for this deck to grow the beard and become something truly formidable?

Zedruu the Greathearted ? Commander | Admiral_Nobeard

It appears that this deck can actually improve substantially and still fall under the 75% banner. There are no broad tutors, no infinite combos, no oppressive cards, and no haymakers. The cards are pretty solid, but I think we can punch this up quite a bit. Maybe we can include some sneaky plays to catch people off guard.

Aggressive Mining
I think donating Pyromancer's Swath, Thought Lash, and Celestial Dawn is nasty, so I added some more stuff to donate. Aggressive Mining is a brand new card, and we haven’t had much time to test it, but I imagine the pain it causes is worth the modicum of advantage it can give, similar to Thought Lash. Rust Elemental seems to be a nasty way to annoy opponents, and Jinxed Choker is a card you can give to anyone, even if he or she tries to give it to you during his or her end step. Steel Golem is a card opponents can chump-block with, but if players work together, it can stop someone from playing creatures, and that can be useful. Transcendence needs to be in the deck. It KO’s people if you can drop below 20 to play it.

I added a few more cards to help you trade things. Bazaar Trader was born to be in this deck. While it’s expensive, I’d recommend you play Gilded Drake if you have one. You can certainly just jam the Vedalken Plotter back in if you don’t.

Forced Fruition is a powerful card that may seem to be a group-hug card at first—until they realize what a liability it can become. I think Nekusar decks have made people a little wary of F.F., but I think the context of a Zedruu player running it out may make them think it’s more of a group-hug card than it actually is. You may have a different experience with your group. If you find it paints a target on you too often, swap it out, but Forced Fruition is becoming popular in Zedruu decks, and for good reason.

I found a few techy cards that I like to help you assemble your pillow fort. Web of Inertia makes it tough to attack you if the opponent doesn’t have a ’yard to do it, and the Web can help attenuate graveyard-based commanders like Karador, Ghost Chieftain. It’s no Tormod's Crypt, but it isn’t really in here to do that; it’s to stymie early attacks. Noetic Scales is another card that is overlooked a bit but that I think is a good global effect, that won’t hurt your deck, and that is donatable. All of these factors make it great tech, but not tech I found in many lists. Prepare to surprise people.

Idyllic Tutor
I don’t have too much of a problem with the tutors—Idyllic Tutor less so than Enlightened Tutor. I can see a case for removing Enlightened Tutor. We are certainly removing the Sensei's Divining Top. Forbid is another card I’m on the fence about, but I cut it to make room since I wasn’t sure. Other than that, not too much was objectionable on 75% grounds, so I cut things I thought were a bit weak.

However, we do have a bit of an issue, as some of the new strategies are beginning to abut our axiom regarding preventing our opponents from doing things. Specifically, offending cards are Nevermore and Exclusion Ritual. A strong tactic is to play these spells naming an opponent’s commander and then donate the enchantments to that player to gain card-draw-and-life-gain triggers. I think these cards are important to increase the power level of the deck, but this will be a matter of personal taste. I think it will be important to restrain yourself from naming their commanders as much as possible since this can lead to some feel-bad scenarios. Naming Maelstrom Wanderer, Prossh, or other such commanders from which opponents can gain repeated value can be the only way to deal with those decks, so I think the cards should stay in. However, restraint is important. Like tutors, these cards are only as pernicious as you are. I fuzzed the numbers on the decklist a little bit because you might not want to necessarily play with both or either of these. However, they may be what it takes for the deck to step its game up. Just as important as scaling the deck down to not ruin your friends’ lives is being able to scale the deck up to pants a stronger deck. I think we have a good mix here, but Nevermore and Exclusion Ritual are going to be contentious cards. No doubt you have a strong opinion about these cards.

In fact, we haven’t done a poll in a while, so let’s do one now.

[poll id="379"]

Exclusion Ritual
Make sure you weigh in.

Are we going to be able to fly under the radar and steal some wins with this deck? I think it’s more likely to occur against inexperienced players. Since that won’t be as likely against stronger players, I think it’s important for this deck to skew powerful to maintain a 75% power level. Since that’s the case, your powerful routes to winning are boring, and your less powerful ones are more exciting. This keeps the deck in a good place for me. You play the deck different ways against different groups, which is a founding principle of this ethos.

Playing against other durdly decks? Try to kill opponents with Rust Elemental and Jinxed Choker. Facing down an army of Hydras? If your Noetic Scales can’t save you, maybe you want to transcend to a higher plane of enlightenment—that is long enough for you to decide an opponent needs the Transcendence more than you do. Maybe you can inflate the player’s ego a bit until you remind him or her that his or her dreams of grandeur were mere illusions.

However you want to get there, I think this deck is substantially more powerful than it was originally, but not so powerful that it transcends the boundaries of a good 75% deck. I think this would be a ton of fun to play with, and while it might not make you as many friends as people might think at the beginning of the game, it should get there. Leave me some comments, take the poll, and, most importantly, have fun out there. I’ll be at Grand Prix Boston (Worcester—let’s be real) this weekend. I’ll just be durdling, so look for my Brainstorm Brewery shirt, and challenge me to a game.

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