MTG March of the Machine: Aftermath available now!
   Sign In
Create Account

Zara Bounce and Steal


Painting of a group of people lounging on near a coastline with a dragon-like creature diving toward them in the sky

A Scene on the French Coast by Richard Parkes Bonington (1825).

Crackling Drake by Victor Adame Minguez.

I'm not generally one to want to steal my opponents' stuff. It's a very strong tactic but it's one that can really make you an enemy in that particular game. Removal is one thing, but taking someone's best creature is the kind of swing that can be backbreaking when done at the right time or with the right creature.

Today's commander is one that steals your opponents' creatures.

The thing about Zara, Renegade Recruiter that I really, really like is that she isn't just a lazy infinite mana outlet like Memnarch. She doesn't take creatures from the battlefield and she can't just take a creature from anyone. She also gives them back. That makes her a lower powered option, to be sure, but also one I'd be more likely to enjoy playing at a casual table.

Zara, Renegade Recruiter

Zara has to attack and we'll only be able to steal a creature from the hand of the opponent we're attacking. That creature will hit the battlefield tapped and attacking that player and it will return to that player's hand at the beginning of the next end step.

My favorite commanders are usually ones that are a puzzle waiting to be solved. I don't think we've got a world-beater of a deck here, but I do think there is fun to be had.

Bounce and Steal

If I have no information about my opponents' hands, I'll simply have to guess which player is likely to have the most relevant creature to steal. I might want to grab a creature and use it before I give it back, like a Sakura-Tribe Elder. I might be looking for a high-power threat to try to finish someone off. I might just be hoping to pick a player who has at least one creature in hand that's even vaguely worth stealing.

There will be lots of times where I have to guess what's in someone's hand, but it would behoove me to run spells that will let me bounce creatures to hand. If I can put someone's best targetable creature into their hand, I can then grab it for my attack if it's still the best choice. If it isn't, I'll have taken away their best creature for a turn and I'll have some idea of what's likely going to hit the field in another turn or two.

Venser, Shaper Savant
Karn's Temporal Sundering

There are some well-known ways to bounce creatures to their owner's hand. Some of them are low costed, pinpoint answers like Unsummon. Venser, Shaper Savant can double as a counterspell and will pair nicely with Deadeye Navigator for a repeatable bounce effect. I'm also running that Blue staple of staples, Cyclonic Rift. If anyone at the table is playing a genuinely lethal threat like Blightsteel Colossus I should be able to bounce everything and kill them with that big boy. The power of an overloaded Rift with Zara lies in the fact that nobody will have any blockers, opening them up to be hit with the biggest, baddest creature I just bounced to their hand. The top end of my bounce options is probably Karn's Temporal Sundering. I'll bounce a nonland permanent and take an extra turn, so if I bounce a fantastic target I ought to be able to get two combats with it.

Proteus Staff
Ashnod's Altar

My ideal situation is that I'll be able to bounce a great creature or just get lucky and pick an opponent with a great pick already in their hand. Then in my second main phase I'd love to be able to use a Proteus Staff to put that creature on the bottom of its owner's library and then reveal cards off the top of my deck until I reveal a creature. I don't have a ton of creatures in this deck, but some are pretty sweet. If I can't find my Proteus Staff, I'm also running Ashnod's Altar, Phyrexian Altar, and Altar of Dementia as ways to flush those guys instead of giving them back.

I'm also running a handful of spells to make token copies of a creature I control. Even if I have to give a stolen creature back, I should be able to keep a copy or even sacrifice the stolen copy if it's legendary and the "legend rule" only lets me keep one of them.

Until End of Turn

I might not be planning on stealing everything, but I do want to make the most of what Zara brings to the game. She'll let me steal creatures until end of turn, so one way to make the most out of her ability could be to take extra combat steps.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum
Scourge of the Throne
Sundial of the Infinite

Sure, I'm running Relentless Assault, Seize the Day, and World at War, but my favorite extra combat steps are likely going to be the ones that stick around. Moraug, Fury of Akoum is fantastic at taking land drops and turning them into extra combats. Scourge of the Throne only asks that I point it at the player with the highest life total to get an extra combat. Hellkite Charger is also in the list. That Dragon will require me to pay mana, but it'll be worth it if I'm able to get a second attack.

If I've got Sundial of the Infinite on the field I can take a page from my Obeka, Brute Chronologist column and use Sundial of the Infinite after the delayed trigger to return the stolen creature has been put on the stack. Sundial will end the turn, clearing the stack and letting me keep the creature.

I'm also running a few extra turn spells. Those won't help with the end of turn trigger to give the creature back but they should still go a long way toward helping to put pressure on my opponents. If I'm flying blind and pick a player with no good creatures in their hand, I can always pick someone else on my next turn.

Getting Through

Any commander that relies upon going to combat is going to have issues with surviving long enough to let my game plan develop. I'm taking a page out of some of my voltron builds and running an assortment of ways to make Zara unblockable.

Aqueous Form
Suspicious Bookcase
Amphin Pathmage

Aqueous Form will let me scry when Zara attacks. It's a staple in a lot of decks that need to attack and care about what's on top of my library. It's joined by Aether Tunnel and an old favorite - Trailblazer's Boots. Suspicious Bookcase is a 0/4 artifact creature with defender, but in a pinch I can pay three mana, tap it and make Zara unblockable. Amphin Pathmage will let me pay mana to make Zara unblockable.

I could see running a few more options if having Zara survive combat becomes a problem. Sometimes you just need to play the deck a bit to get a feel for whether or not you're running enough of something.

The Decklist

This is built to be a relatively fair deck, if stealing creatures is the sort of thing you think of as "fair". Ideally, you'll be able to avoid too much aggro by never really looking like that big of a threat. As you get into the late game you should be able to remove major threats and carefully save up your counterspells to keep any truly dire threats from resolving.

The most fun will probably come when you're able to really know what your opponents have in their hands. It can be fun to guess right, but it's even better when you know exactly who you're about to hit with some big, scary creature.

Sorcerous Spyglass
Strionic Resonator

Telepathy is clearly the best option, forcing your opponents to play with their hands revealed. Sorcerous Spyglass will give you a look at one opponent's hand but can also serve as a powerful weapon against commanders with activated abilities.

Strionic Resonator will let me copy my triggered ability, so if I get lucky and pick a player with two great creatures in hand, I might be able to really swing the game my way. I might even hit an opponent with a 2-creature combo in hand just waiting for the right time to go for the win.

Final Thoughts

This style of deck is very much not in my comfort zone, but I think I'd be comfortable playing this list with the plan to pay attention to what's working and to improve it over time. We should be doing that anyways, but this is a deck I'd pay particular attention to. I like the basic plan, but I'm definitely not used to having quite so low a creature count and I usually fold at least one combo into the mix.

There's an argument to be made that Zara belongs in the 99 of an Obeka build rather than at the head of her own list, and I think there's something to that. This deck should be able to play at low to mid-powered tables but will surely struggle against go-wide strategies and really aggressive decks. Part of the challenge is that you're leaning on your opponents to provide you with your biggest threats. If you can do that and find success and then hit a few extra combat steps, there's no reason to think you couldn't have fun with Zara.

If you've built Zara and have some insight on whether I'm on the right track with this list, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did I miss a key combo or powerful bit of synergy? Let me know!

That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you back here next Monday!

Commander HQ: Decklists and Strategy for Commander Legends's Legendary Creatures!

Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist