Screenshot from The Lorax by Universal Pictures (2012). Saproling Token by Mike Burns.
With the release of Battlebond we have a bunch of new and interesting cards and keywords that give us new and interesting ways to tweak old decks. In today’s column I’m going to be cracking open an old Zedruu deck and looking at how some of the new Battlebond mechanics fit wonderfully into a Zedruu gifts deck.
Before we leap into new cards, let’s take a look at what Zedruu brings to a deck. For this Minotaur Monk will let you gain X life and draw X cards where X is the number of permanents you own that your opponents control. That last part might sound pretty useless, but this generous lady also allows you to give your permanents to your opponents for the low cost of .
If you think that sounds like the kind of commander who could never lead a top-tier deck . . . well, you’re right. Zedruu decks can win the occasional game, but Zedruu decks aren’t generally about winning. They’re about having fun. They’re about shenanigans, tomfoolery, politics, king-making and every once in a while, giving a friend Transcendence when the two of you are the only ones left alive, you’re at under 20 life and they are at over 20 life.
There are a few basic builds for Zedruu that I’ve seen and played, and you can mix elements from these decks together to create your own personal take on the great Goat lady.
Zedruu Pillow Fort
I think of this as the classic Zedruu build, where you do everything you can to keep from getting attacked and give out gifts. They can be lands, extra mana rocks or even creatures like Humble Defector or Goblin Cadets. You give nice gifts to opponents who leave you alone and mean, nasty, crippling gifts to anyone who dares to attack you. You also run lots of defensive cards like the following.
The basic problem with this approach is that it’s hard to consistently get enough defensive enchantments and artifacts out to make it into the mid or late game. If you’ve got a table that wants to take you down quickly, they can usually do so even if you get out a few enchantments to protect yourself.
Zedruu’s Weapon Shop
This variation on Zedruu has you playing equipment and using her donate ability to give weapons out to anyone willing to use them against anyone other than you. I have not played this build, and suspect that it may also suffer from the problem of not having a good way to keep from being attacked.
Maybe with this deck you just abandon all hope of ever winning and just aim for second place. I’m not sure, but I also never had a good enough collection of Swords of X and Y and other high-value equipment to make this a build an option for me.
Zedruu’s Mighty Morphs
My old Zedruu morphs deck worked by playing face-down creatures and giving them to opponents who had the right colors to be able to turn them face up.
It works when you can convince everyone that you really do want to give them a morph that they can flip, and when your opponents’ curiosity gets the better of them. If they want to get a gift morph just to see what they’ll be given, you can wind up having some fun with this build. It’s novel, it’s unexpected, and it can make for a really interesting game if everyone is into it.
How Zedruu Wins
You generally try to survive until the late game and then give your opponents stuff that will cripple or kill them. If things go well, you can wait until only one opponent is left and they think they’ve got an easy way to finish you off. If someone attacks you early on, you may have to give away a few “bad gifts” like Statecraft or Grid Monitor earlier than you’d like, but that’s what they are there for.
Giving someone a creature with an ability that allows them to pay life into an activated ability and then taking that player’s turn with Mindslaver and making them pay their life down to zero (or one) works nicely and never gets old. Giving someone Transcendence also never gets old, but you have to be under 20 life to be able to play it and survive long enough to give it away.
What Battlebond Brings to Zedruu
Friend or Foe
One of the most interesting new mechanics that came out in Battlebond is “Friend or Foe”. These cards allow you to either do something nice or something not-so-nice to each of your opponents. With the addition of these cards, you now have another way to try to convince folks to leave you alone. You can simply promise to treat everyone as a friend until they give you a reason not to.
These cards are all rares and there’s one for each color. Let’s take a look at what we have available to use in Jeskai (WUR).
Regna's Sanction is a sorcery that costs and will either give all of a player’s creatures +1/+1 counters or tap all but one of a player’s creatures. If you have a table full of friends and one foe who happens to be sitting to your right, you could set all of your friends up to dish out a ton of damage to the player if they were foolish enough to become your enemy.
Zndrsplt's Judgment is a sorcery that costs and will either let your friends make a copy of one of their creatures or bounce one of your foes’ creatures (of their choice) to their hand.
Khorvath's Fury will have your friends discarding their hands and drawing that many cards plus one, and your foes will take damage equal to the number of cards in their hand.
The power of these cards is largely in your opponents not wanting to be on the bad side of them. They aren’t generally game-ending but if everyone knows that there’s a chance their transgressions against you will come back to them in the form of a “friend or foe” card, you might have more players wanting to stay on your good side.
With the new “Assist” cards you’ve got a new and interesting way to play politics with your opponents. If you want to play permanents and give them away on the very same turn, that takes a significant amount of mana. The new “Assist” mechanic allows you to get help from your opponents to cast certain spells.
Normally it might seem like an impossible task to ask an opponent to help you pay for a spell, especially a creature spell. With Zedruu, you can ask for an advance payment. You can auction off these creatures and spells to the player who will pay the most mana into the colorless cost of an assist spell so that you still have available mana to give that player the creature or the benefit of the spell they helped to cast.
Assist creatures always seem to be slightly overcosted and our first three are no exception. Dwarven Lightsmith is a 3-power, 4-toughness Dwarf Cleric who costs and will give your creatures +1/+1 until end of turn when it enters the battlefield. The player who helps pay for this little guy won’t get the benefit of his ETB ability, but he’s still a decent body and might be worth a mana or two from someone with nothing better to spend mana on.
Skystreamer is a 3/2 Griffin with flying who will let you give target player 4 life when it enters the fray. That modest lifegain is definitely something you can add into the deal in exchange for helping to pay its casting cost. Spellweaver Duo is a 4/4 Human Wizard who lets you bounce target tapped creature to its owner’s hand. You can always let your patron choose the target in exchange for some donated mana.
There are two Red Assist creatures worth mentioning. The first is Magma Hellion — a 5/4 Hellion with trample and haste. The second is Lava-Field Overlord, a dragon with flying and a 4 damage ETB trigger that you can work into your payment negotiations.
Sometimes you won’t have the mana to be able to transfer ownership of a shiny new Assist creature immediately, but you can always call your opponents’ contributions “advance payments”. The promise of donating a creature to your opponent may keep them from attacking you, but you’ll do well to keep up your end of the bargain or you’ll lose the ability to negotiate with anyone.
If you manage to get your opponents used to the idea of making advance payments on creatures, it should be possible to get them to contribute to other spells. Out of Bounds is more likely to be a spell you use to save the table by countering another player’s wincon, but some players will see that as being worth the cost.
Bring Down is a removal spell you can easily offer up for an opponent to help you cast, with the highest bidder getting the right to pick the target. Whatever they pick will probably be something you also want gone from the battlefield. Play of the Game will affect everyone, including yourself, but if one of your foes gets too far ahead or if you are in danger of getting killed, you might be able to get some help with this powerful boardwipe that will deal with hexproof and indestructible creatures as well as anything else that isn’t a land.
Game Plan will shuffle everyone’s hand and graveyard into their library and then give every player a fresh hand of seven cards. If there is a graveyard deck that is threatening to run away with the game, it should be relatively easy to get help with casting this spell. Huddle Up is even easier to get help with, as it allows two target players to each draw a card. I imagine you’ll have an easy time finding a friend who would jump at the chance to draw a card for 2 mana if they have it available.
The other set of cards that would fit in nicely with a Zedruu gifts deck are cards with the support keyword. If you’re building Battlebond Zedruu, these are worth a look.
Expedition Raptor and Relief Captain are both ways to play a creature and win some favors. If you’ve got players who haven’t attacked you yet but don’t seem to be committed to being your friend, you can put +1/+1 counters on two of their creatures as a show of good faith. Shoulder to Shoulder lets you draw a card and support 2. Card draw is always good, especially when you’re digging for ways to keep those pumped-up creatures from attacking you.
Jubilant Mascot lets you pay at the beginning of combat on your turn to support 2. A repeatable way to pump opponents’ creatures is even more powerful than a single ETB effect. Press into Service will let you steal a creature until end of turn and support 2. Unity of Purpose will let you untap each creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it after you support 2.
This last card is probably the single best Zedruu card out of this bunch as far as I’m concerned. Together Forever will let you support 2 when it enters the battlefield, but the big deal is that it lets you pay 1 to have a creature with a +1/+1 counter on it return to its owner’s hand if it were to die this turn. If you’re putting counters on creatures and you’re giving creatures away, this can turn into a little boardwipe insurance for some of the dudes you donated if you also gave them counters.
I’m probably not going to run many of these, but they’re definitely a way to try to curry favor with your tablemates. I play with way too many players who think it would be hysterical to kill me with creatures loaded up with counters that I put there, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for every meta. They might be right for yours, and those +1/+1 counters do make for great gifts.
I think this sounds a little crazy, but if you truly want to give great gifts, there is no greater gift than a planeswalker emblem, and in Battlebond there are two planeswalkers who let you do that. Before this set, every previous planeswalker emblem would come from a loyalty ability that read “You get an emblem . . . ”
Will Kenrith and Rowan Kenrith both have emblems that can target any player, so if you were in a really generous mood you could run these two and promise to give emblems to your friends. That would be very fitting for a kingmaker Zedruu build.
My final list isn’t a full Battlebond Zedruu build. I’m reworking an older list that has gone through a number of evolutions. I’m sprucing it up to make it fresh and new, adding in friend or foe cards and as many assist cards as I can get my hands on, but I’m giving my Will and Rowan to my kid and I don’t trust my friends not to turn my support gifts against me.
Friends of Zedruu ? Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Zedruu the Greathearted
- Creatures (20)
- 1 Akroan Horse
- 1 Baird, Steward of Argive
- 1 Dwarven Lightsmith
- 1 Flickerwisp
- 1 Humble Defector
- 1 Immolating Souleater
- 1 Kami of False Hope
- 1 Lava-Field Overlord
- 1 Leveler
- 1 Magma Hellion
- 1 Medomai the Ageless
- 1 Moltensteel Dragon
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Skystreamer
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Spellweaver Duo
- 1 Trespassing Souleater
- 1 Vedalken Plotter
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Windborn Muse
- Instants (11)
- 1 Cancel
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Deflecting Palm
- 1 Disperse
- 1 Enchantment Alteration
- 1 Enlightened Tutor
- 1 Hoodwink
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Out of Bounds
- 1 Turn Aside
- Sorceries (9)
- 1 Bring Down
- 1 Cultural Exchange
- 1 Fractured Identity
- 1 Game Plan
- 1 Huddle Up
- 1 Khorvath's Fury
- 1 Play of the Game ">Play of the Game
- 1 Regna's Sanction
- 1 Zndrsplt's Judgment
- Enchantments (12)
- 1 Delusions of Mediocrity
- 1 Diplomatic Immunity
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Illusions of Grandeur
- 1 Oblivion Ring
- 1 Paradox Haze
- 1 Propaganda
- 1 Sphere of Safety
- 1 Statecraft
- 1 Teferi's Moat
- 1 Together Forever
- 1 Transcendence
- Artifacts (9)
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Mindslaver
- 1 Mirage Mirror
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Thought Vessel
Play of the Game |1 Regna's Sanction |1 Zndrsplt's Judgment |1 Delusions of Mediocrity |1 Diplomatic Immunity |1 Ghostly Prison |1 Illusions of Grandeur |1 Oblivion Ring |1 Paradox Haze |1 Propaganda |1 Sphere of Safety |1 Statecraft |1 Teferi's Moat |1 Together Forever |1 Transcendence |1 Azorius Signet |1 Boros Signet |1 Commander's Sphere |1 Expedition Map |1 Izzet Signet |1 Mindslaver |1 Mirage Mirror |1 Sol Ring |1 Thought Vessel |8 Mountain |8 Plains |9 Island |1 Azorius Chancery |1 Boros Garrison |1 City of Brass |1 Glacial Fortress |1 Homeward Path |1 Izzet Boilerworks |1 Mystic Monastery |1 Rainbow Vale |1 Reliquary Tower |1 Sea of Clouds |1 Swiftwater Cliffs |1 Tranquil Cove |1 Wind-Scarred Crag ">
When I started this column, I really didn’t expect to come away having found so many amazing Zedruu cards. Between the friend or foe cards, the assist cards, the support keyword and the first planeswalkers ever printed that allow you to gift an emblem to another player, this was really a gold mine for Zedruu.
I think you could build a really fun and interesting Zedruu deck with even more Battlebond cards. My build isn’t going to win a ton of games, but with the additions I’ve made from this set I think it’s going to have a fresh feel and will give me some new ways to play politics with my friends.
If you have any questions about why some of these cards are in my list, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to explain why they’re in there.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!