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Jumpstart Commander: Building Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

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Sometimes, like last time, things just... work out. We got two packs in the same color, both of which worked really well with each other.

This time? Yeah. We got Fiery (3) and Shapeshifters. That's Red and Blue, which work really well together sometimes, but in this case, not so much. Shapeshifters is Changelings, with a bit of a Pirate subtheme and a few Clone-style effects. Fiery is burn and some Kiln Fiends (though no actual Kiln Fiend). There's no great way to go Pirate tribal, and there's not really a tribe to Fiery anyway, so we're kind of stuck.

Pirates was my first choice. I found no interesting Commanders. I even looked at all the Partner options and all the Background combinations. For a sad few minutes, I even contemplated using Faceless One as a way out, but that seemed so trite.

So, I looked at the packs again. It occurred to me there actually is a kind of Tribal aspect to the Red pack - there are some Elementals in there. Elemental Tribal! And there aren't any Commanders. Drat.

Which led me to my final place: This is an opportunity to build a deck which is intentionally a bit all over the place, with opportunities to build more to a specific strategy later. This isn't unlike what most of the preconstructed decks look like, where they have a few different subthemes and you can develop one over the others as you play it and make changes.

Blue-Red, or Izzet, is well-known for being the spells-matter combo. In 60-card formats, you run burn and card draw and throw fire at your opponent till they're dead. That's a lot harder in Commander because you have to do 120 damage (40 per opponent) rather than 20, which is a whole lot of Lightning Bolts. But with the right setup, we can make our spells matter a bit more. We've already got a few spells, thanks to our packs, a few Creatures which care about our casting those spells, and a few more Creatures which can copy our Creatures which care (or copy other stuff on the Battlefield we wouldn't mind having a copy of), and a few more random things which will be weird but clutter up the board. How about this guy?

Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

If we build to Zaffai's strength, which is big spells, we build an Izzet ramp deck which tops out on massive Instants and Sorceries. This gives us a few options. If we find we're doing well with our Kiln Fiends, we can lean into more of that and pull some of the random Pirates. Perhaps we find that 5+ Mana Value making Elemental tokens is the way to go, and perhaps we even run stuff like Mindwrack Liege to make them bigger or effects to make them fly or something. Maybe we go all in on Token making with Young Pyromancer effects, attempting to make each spell spit out a batch of tokens we can use to flood the board. Or maybe we go with the 10+ spells, ramping hard and using a bunch of x spells to do 10 random damage over and over. We might even be able to figure out some ways to copy that effect so we do more damage. Or maybe we go in on our Clones, even doing a Clone/Threaten thing to still be casting spells, but using our opponents' stuff against them.

As per usual, we're starting with 40 lands. Most of them are here to fix our colors or give us extra like Izzet Boilerworks or Temple of the False God. I used to run those a lot and have moved away from them because I find they cause more trouble then they're worth, but in this case, the extra mana is worth it. We also have a number of the Cycling lands to dig further if we draw them later; it's worth it for coming into play tapped.

More importantly, we're running a good amount of artifact ramp. We want mana, and we want lots of it, so we have Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and a whole bunch of others. I generally prefer to run ramp which does more stuff, because a Sol Ring is often kind of dead late game but a Network Terminal will have use throughout the game. Here, for the most part, we're just running cheap ramp, both in the hopes of hitting a turn-three Zaffai and pushing out that mana early. One major exception is Primal Amulet, which is cost-reducing rather than ramping, but it's worth it if we can flip it and start copying spells.

Magma Opus
We want to remember Zaffai's Scry trigger, because it will matter. We don't have a ton of cheap draw. More than likely we're going to play out much of our hand, then play Magma Opus to draw back up, or hit Blue Sun's Zenith a couple of times. One thing worth considering early is dropping some of the random Creatures and Spells from the packs for a few Divination-like effects, but for now, in play-testing, the deck worked okay. The lack of draw is made up for in the Scry our Commander builds in and big, splashy plays.

We're likely to win with a combination of Elemental tokens and damage from Zaffai's 10+ trigger; it's amazing what happens when you start throwing around doses of 10 damage. We have a few spells which are 10 or more, including some x spells, and a whole bunch worth 5 or more to get the Elemental, so we should be able to throw some damage at some opponents. Surge to Victory is another great example of a spell which can win games; with just a few Elementals and a couple recastings of one of our larger spells, we can end a game just like that. Our Kiln Fiends shouldn't go unnoticed either, as they can be quite surprising, especially if they fly, and our Clones can be very effective if someone isn't expecting us to copy their giant Tramply whatever.

One nice thing about burn spells is they kill Creatures as well as do damage to faces, so we've got some ways to kill some stuff. Crackle with Power is a fun one, as is Aether Gale. Fiery Intervention is a holdover from the Jumpstart pack, but it works nicely here, killing something and granting us a 4/4 for our trouble. We may find more sculpting is needed to have enough removal, or it's possible some of the quality just needs to go up, but we're in a decent place to start. And we can always block with our army of 4/4s, which isn't nothing.

Jumpstart Zaffai | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Card Display


This is a longer process than the Freyalise deck we built last time. That deck is going to rumble out of the gate and work pretty much right away. It is unlikely to win a cEDH tournament, and anything using Jumpstart as a starting point is going to do with a few upgrades over time, but that deck will likely win games early in its life.

This deck is more of a relationship. You have to tend it, make adjustments, negotiate, and try new stuff before it works really well. It's unlikely to win right away, but each game will be an opportunity to learn more about what works and what doesn't, and more importantly, what you want the deck to do. Do you like the Clones the most? Is blasting a huge Comet Storm more your jam? Do you like leveraging your Tokens for the win? Get a sense of what you enjoy, and start leaning into it, piece by piece. Don't cut lands, cut cards from other strategies, and add in pieces which aid your direction. It's good practice in tuning.

There's a psychological benefit to this, too. I know when I see a Commander I really want to make work and spend a bunch of time building the deck, just to find it doesn't do what I want it to do (I'm looking at you, Kemba, Kha Regent), it's disappointing and often leads to my bailing on the deck. With Jumpstart, you didn't pick your theme. You aren't building the deck because you saw a preview and fell in love. You're building a deck for another reason - you don't have one and need a first, or you don't have a huge collection and need to leverage what you have, or you want the challenge of a new deck, or you liked the way the packs played together and want to see if you can develop it. But in a situation like this, it's not that your idea didn't work, it's that the idea needs your help. Only by working with it, playing with it, and wanting it to succeed will you build a deck you are finally really happy with. That's a challenge worth accepting.

Thanks for reading.

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