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Trying Not to Win in Commander: Zedruu


I can't tell you how freeing it is to quit thinking about winning.

So, I sat down to design this week's deck and... well, I immediately started thinking about winning.

It's hard-wired for us Magic players, isn't it? In heads-up Magic, the point is simple: defeat the other player. That's it. Doesn't matter how, just do that. We all know Commander gets squishier, but ultimately it comes down to trying to figure out how to win, even when the odds are against you.

Well, if I'm going to spend my time thinking about how to win even with a deck designed specifically not to win, let's at least come at it from a different direction. That leads us to today's Commander, Zedruu the Greathearted Kingmaker.

Zedruu the Greathearted

Zedruu, it seems to me, is related to two deck-building styles. The first is Group Hug; we can make nice stuff and give it away! (Actually, it's a worthwhile consideration for a deck in our last article's vein, because we can give away stuff only to people who need it.) There are also ways to leverage Zedruu's ability to make it hurt by giving away things like Jinxed Idol and the like.

Today, though, we're going to do something very specific, and it's going to start before we sit down at the table. You see, we're going to pick who's going to win the game - someone other than ourselves, of course - but we must sit to that person's right. We want our turn to end and their turn to begin. Because they are going to win whether they want to or not.

We have a few ways to get there, but ultimately our goal is to play Happily Ever After, Test of Endurance, or Felidar Sovereign on our turn, give it to the player on our left, then pass the turn to the left, making sure they've met whatever condition is required for the thing we give them, and have them win on their upkeep.

This is going to take a while, though, because we aren't running any tutors. We could, and in fact, running an Idyllic Tutor or a Plea for Guidance might be a good idea just to make sure we get what we need, but I thought it'd be more fun to figure out how to stay alive long enough to pull this off without having to tutor. So, I turned to some lessons from our Group Hug deck.

We're going to play powerbroker throughout the game. We're going to make our existence valuable enough everyone's going to want us around. We're going to draw everyone some cards and gain everyone some life. Not like in traditional Group Hug, where it's all the time crazy, but enough to where no one is going to want us to be out of the game. We can also ship someone a creature if they need one, or even cancel out a massive attack (something like Mystifying Maze), which is particularly important with our chosen winner because we need them at the very least over 40 life. We can interrupt a particularly nasty combo. We're like the big dog everyone really wants to be friends with - but the nice kind, who just looks mean but is actually super sweet. This will be a fun exercise in Magic politics.

One of the keys is to quietly keep everyone's life total up. We probably want to send a Pristine Talisman to our mark if we draw it. Relic Bind is funny and old but nifty, since we can stick it on a Sol Ring or something and have it tick someone's life total up. We can also use a Heliod's Intervention or Congregate to grant a bunch of life on someone. Plus, we have a few Lifelink creatures we can give away. We probably don't want to make it too obvious, but with any luck we've chosen someone to win who perhaps is used to losing a lot, so the fact we're being extra nice to them isn't too strange.

Then we ship them the win-right-now card and let them win. With Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance, they just need a certain life total. If they've got that, they'll just... win. Happily Ever After requires a bit more work, so let's break it down.

In order to win with Happily Ever After, the player must have

  • Five colors among permanents they control
  • Six or more card types among permanents they control and/or cards in their graveyard
  • Life total equal to or greater than their starting life total

If we're trying to have a Golgari player win the game, we can just throw them the enchantment and then Zedruu to get all five colors. Otherwise we have to get around this annoying little part, and we'll do it with Transguild Courier. Transguild Courier is a weirdo little card, a 3/3 for four, but it happens to be all colors, so we send them that at some point and they have all five colors among permanents they control.

The card types are Creature, Planeswalker, Artifact, Enchantment, Instant, Sorcery, and Land. That's... only seven, so they've got to have almost all of them. Let's assume they've got Lands for sure. We're sending them an Artifact and a Creature in Transguild Courier (that's three including the Land) and an Enchantment in Happily Ever After (that's four). If they've played an Instant and a Sorcery, or happen to have a Planeswalker and have played one of them, we're golden. If we've gotten Jace Beleren out we can always send him their way, but we don't have the room for a ton of 'walkers just to support this, so we're going to have to hope they've at least played a few spells along the way.

Life total we should be able to manage. Though send them a Propaganda effect, too, if we happen into one. Don't save it for yourself.

Zedruu the Kingmaker | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

We have a few counterspells and Silence, which can help us to pull off our little combo as well as help prevent any shenanigans from anyone else, but mostly we're hoping to stay alive through goodwill and do our thing.

The most important part of all of this is deciding who's going to win. We want to choose carefully. If you're playing at an LGS and are used to playing with adults, I recommend the kid who comes in playing a straight-out-of-the-box precon. Got a friend who needs a laugh? Hand the win to them. A table full of Spikes? Show them you'll be the one deciding who wins, thank you.

First of all, what did I miss? Anything else you'd put in the deck to help along the strategy? Also, would you play a deck where the goal is to help someone else win the game, rather than win yourself? If so, what tactic would you take? Let us know in the comments!

The budget here was $250, and we easily made it at $232.34. It could come down a fair bit with a paired down mana base, but the $23 for Test of Endurance is worth it for the redundancy.

Thanks for reading.

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