Well, crap. I had intended this to be my 4th of July post, as we're looking at a Red, White and Blue deck. How fitting that we should explore the most patriotically-colored deck as we celebrate our nation's birthday by blowing up some fireworks made in China.
But alas, even though I had this post written well ahead of the weekend, and all it needed was some pretty pictures and card links, I was just too busy over the holiday to get around to finishing this article. Oh well. It's here now, so you'll get over it, I'm sure.
We are finally at the endgame; the last deck to cover is Political Puppets. I put this one off until last because I still haven’t actually piloted this deck in a game (and the convenient holiday timing). I’ve played all the others, but this one held little appeal to me as a player. I’m a pro-active kind of player, and this is a sit-back and wait kind of deck. Even my control desk tend to be less defensive and more up-front in their intentions than this deck.
A friend of mine has played with the deck a few times, and he is a far more cautious, defensive player than myself. He even plays his aggro decks far more defensively that I would. Case in point, we both have Rafiq of the Many decks, and while I usually throw out Rafiq the second I hit four mana, he rarely runs out his general until he feels safe doing so – after I’ve already used a couple of removal spells and I’m down to 1 or 2 cards in hand.
My point? After a couple of games with the unmodified list, even HE complained that the deck wasn’t pro-active enough, didn’t have enough threats, just didn’t DO enough. I figure if even he, a far more cautious player than myself, got bored with the deck, then I would have zero chance of having fun with it. Fortunately, though, while the deck looks terminally boring to play, I’m interested in theory and deckbuilding enough that the prospect of tuning this deck has plenty of appeal to me!
But since this style of deck is not my forte, I must tell you that a good deal of the ideas here will have come from people in my playgroup or the folks on the forums. Just so you know… consider credit given to the interwebs and my friends!
So, starting as always with the original list, let’s hit it:
1 Arbiter of Knollridge
1 Azorius Guildmage
1 Brion Stoutarm
1 Chromeshell Crab
1 Court Hussar
1 Dominus of Fealty
1 False Prophet
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Fog Bank
1 Goblin Cadets
1 Guard Gomazoa
1 Izzet Chronarch
1 Jötun Grunt
1 Nin, the Pain Artist
1 Numot, the Devastator
1 Rapacious One
1 Ruhan of the Fomori
1 Spurnmage Advocate
1 Vedalken Plotter
1 Wall of Denial
1 Wall of Omens
1 Windborn Muse
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Austere Command
1 Breath of Darigaaz
1 Champion's Helm
1 Chaos Warp
1 Crescendo of War
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Death by Dragons
1 Dreamstone Hedron
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Howling Mine
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Lash Out
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Martyr's Bond
1 Murmurs from Beyond
1 Perilous Research
1 Pollen Lullaby
1 Prison Term
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Punishing Fire
1 Reins of Power
1 Scattering Stroke
1 Sol Ring
1 Soul Snare
1 Spell Crumple
1 Trade Secrets
1 Vision Skeins
1 Vow of Duty
1 Vow of Flight
1 Vow of Lightning
1 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Azorius Chancery
1 Boros Garrison
1 Command Tower
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Terramorphic Expanse
Okay, so we have here is a deck that appears to be a mix of Group Hug, Chaos, and Political style cards. Lots of defensive spells and incentives for your opponents to attack anyone but you. I can’t believe they managed to put Ghostly Prison, Propaganda and Windborn Muse into this, but thankfully they did.
The Vows are great, too, despite the fact that the Red and White ones are the worst of the bunch. They just make so much more sense in this style of deck. They are highly political cards, and so this deck can utilize them effectively.
Gilded Drake is notably absent, which sucks, but it is one of the first cards I’d consider for a deck like this.
Brand, also, is one of the more obvious cards that should come up when discussing a Zedruu deck, though the card is much weaker since M10 rules changed how it interacts with tokens.
Crescendo of War makes less sense in this deck, although it does have a symmetrical effect so that the controller of the card doesn’t really matter – you can donate it to any other player without effecting the board state very much (though the BLOCKING part only helps the controller, that’s much less significant than the Attacking portion).
Another card I have a problem with is Prison Term. You can neutralize a threat, then donate the enchantment somewhere else, but the problem is that whoever controls the enchantment can move it to another creature, and you have no control over where it goes at that point. Basically, you'd be giving the inmate the keys to his own cell. I’d rather have something like Faith’s Fetters here.
Journey to Nowhere is in, but Oblivion Ring isn’t? Definitely need to fix that. Exclusion Ritual is another fine choice, and it’s especially fun to use it on a Primeval Titan or Lightning Greaves… you know, something that’s likely to be in every deck.
One strategy is to give “gifts” that have drawbacks, like, say Steel Golem. Give Steel Golem or his big brother Grid Monitor to a player and he’s suddenly unable to cast creature spells. However, virtually every EDH deck ever runs some kind of High Market or Greater Good or Fleshbag Marauder… etc. It’s not likely to stay on the table long at all, so it’s questionable as to whether this type of strategy has any real merit. Regardless, I’ll be content to suggest some cards along these lines anyway, and let you all sort out what works and what doesn’t. Cool?
So along the “poison gift” route, the two cards I am capable of thinking up without needing input from the web are Jinxed Idol (also Jinxed Choker, but I count that as one idea) and Bronze Bombshell.
Oh, well, that’s not counting the entirely-way-too-obvious Illusions of Grandeur and Delusions of Mediocrity!
These sorts of cards aren’t likely to gain you any political favor, though. Remember, you want to try to make people WANT to attack someone other than you, and annoying the shit out of them with these sorts of “gifts” will not achieve this goal. That said, the Jinxed artifacts are pretty appealing for the simple fact that they have built-in ways to be “re-gifted”, so your original recipient can dump his Jinxed Idol on some other poor schlub. I think these cards can lead to some funny situations and if you can make your opponent’s laugh then you are doing something right.
Another category of spells is the symmetrical effect permanent, like the aforementioned Crescendo of War, but Howling Mine is easily the poster-child for this sort of thing. Things that have exactly the same effect for everybody, no matter who controls them.
Some ideas include: Font of Mythos, Hive Mind, Wild Evocation, Knowledge Pool (make sure no one’s playing Teferi, though!), Oath of Lieges, and World Queller. Basically, anything that helps or hurts the entire table equally will suffice. But be mindful of the political ramifications of each card you include and donate – giving someone a World Queller means there’s a pretty good chance they’ll name “Creature” just so they can sacrifice they World Queller and where would that get you?
Same thing with Lich's Tomb – while it could be funny to donate this to a player about to take damage from an attack, they’ll just sac the Tomb among their other permanents, but if the damage is high enough that might still set them back a great deal.
Hive Mind and similar cards tend to be too random and chaotic to predict, and they could easily just wind up annoying players or creating rules-nightmare game states, but Chaos is definitely one direction you can take this deck if you like.
Thieves' Auction and to a lesser extent, Warp World have the same kind of feel to them, and could play well enough in a chaotic Zedruu brew.
Loxodon Peacekeeper is a pretty interesting card for this deck – it gives itself away, so you don’t have to use up mana to donate it, but it’s not big enough to be likely to bite you in the ass later.
Bazaar Trader is another way to get free Donate effects for Creatures, Lands and Artifacts at least.
I also like Puca's Mischief here, which is something I don't get to say very often!
Cultural Exchange might be of some value as well.
Starke of Rath can help keep the board clear of scary things, but also is likely to slow the game down too much, possibly leading to long boring games, at least until someone realizes Starke can kill himself!
Which brings up a good point. Creatures are one of the most fragile and short-lived permanent types in EDH. Wrath effects, sac outlets, and targeted removal are all very common in most EDH decks, so giving away creatures might not get you very far. The more powerful/expensive that creature is, the more likely some other opponent is going to kill it.
Donating lands is probably a much safer route, as land destruction is somewhat less prevalent in EDH, and people are less likely to use up a spell to kill a land you donated to someone else.
In light of that, cards like Land Tax, Knight of the White Orchid and Weathered Wayfarer are quite good. This helps you keep up on your land drops while donating a land will help ensure your Land Tax is always active each turn. It’s just too bad we aren’t in Green for the various “play and extra land” effects like Exploration.
The “Hunted” creatures from Ravnica are a nice choice, too. Hunted Dragon, Hunted Lammasu and Hunted Phantasm are all ways to give away some extra stuff, and earn you some political points.
One idea I read about online involved giving someone a bunch of tokens with Hunted Dragon and Hunted Phantasm, then donating a Bronze Bombshell, and using Mirrorweave to turn all their creatures into Bombshells for massive damage. This is a clever and funny way to win, if you’re down to one opponent, but I’m not sure how reliable it actually would be.
I do like the idea of just running Mirrorweave for the vast array of interesting plays it can lead too. You could gain massive political favor from one opponent, if your Mirrorweave turns his handful of 1/1 tokens swinging at an opponent into lethally large dragons or something. Or the reverse, you can save an opponent from the brink of doom by ‘Weaving a horde of attackers into less threatening 0/1 Plants.
Master Warcraft is a card that just never really does what you want it to do, or think it should do, in my experience. 99% of time, it’s just a 4-mana fog that you have to cast before you even know if you’re going to be the one attacked or not. I suppose, if you have a Propaganda out, and player taps out completely in their pre-combat main phase, you can Warcraft them into attacking, but they won’t be able to pay to attack you, so they’d be forced to attack someone else.
But that’s likely to bite you in the ass, as both the target of the Master of Warcraft AND the player he was forced to attack might wind up allying with each other to take you down. As much as I want the spell to be good, and I see why it was included, it’s really just pretty terrible and should be cut from the deck, if you want to actually play this as a political deck.
Here’s a nasty idea: donate a Celestial Dawn to a player with no White in his deck. Unless he has an artifact that can kill Enchantments like, say Oblivion Stone, or maybe All is Dust, he won’t be able to cast anything but artifacts the rest of the game! Don’t do this, though, as that’s just a total d-bag move.
A much more innocuous approach is to just cast middling ETBF effect stuff, and then Donate it. Cast a Mulldrifter and give it away. Cast Oblivion Ring to remove a threat, then give the O-Ring to someone else. If you drop a Flametongue Kavu to kill an opponent’s creature, give him the FTK to replace it. Whatever you killed was probably more scary than a 4/2, but at least they have SOMETHING left….
Putting Pariah on a Stuffy Doll, or any indestructible creature might be a plan. Worship is pretty good too, especially if you throw in a Kher Keep or something that can just poop out a creature token at instant speed to ward of an attack. Ideally, though you won’t be low enough on life to really need this particular line of defense. However, if you do find your group likes to pick on you for playing Zedruu, this tech might come in handy.
Delaying Shield is funny. Statecraft is just plain AWESOME. Best when held back until it’s just you and one other opponent, then you drop this and donate it to your remaining opponent. If they have run out all their Enchantment hate, they’re probably screwed… unless they have a combo-kill.
Which reminds me… Rule of Law and Arcane Laboratory are both in-color and are symmetrical effects! If you have a combo-player in your group, donate one of these to that player, just to really irk them! Here, have this card that hoses you!
Tsabo’s Web is another hoser of sorts, cantriping for you then you just donate it to whoever is least likely to have a sac outlet for it. Same with Spreading Seas if you just need to shut down someone’s Cabal Coffers or something.
The defenses in this deck include a number of walls. Many are just “meh” because of the fragility of creatures anyway. I do like Wall of Denial, though, and I also like Wall of Reverence. Wall of Omens makes the cut because it’s a cantrip that you can donate early on and not worry about getting hit with it. The rest of the walls you’ll be torn between wanting to donate them but needing the defense! So I cut the walls back to just those three: Omens, Denial and Reverence.
I’d definitely like to have a Swords to Plowshares and a Path to Exile in here, to back up the great rattlesnake card Soul Snare.
False Prophet is a great inclusion, and likely to stay in the deck. Archon of Justice is very similar but more versatile, and more surgically precise.
Solitary Confinement is a nice way to turtle up, once you have Zedruu online and drawing extra cards.
Venser the Sojourner is a cool way to get back stuff you gave away, if the person you gave it to starts to use those gifts against you.
Avarice Totem probably bears looking at. This, plus Elixir of Immortality and Pithing Needle make a Trinket Mage package worth investigating.
Now we come to the hard part. Ideally, even if you are playing a political deck like Zedruu, you’re playing with the hope and intent of winning. How is a deck that just gives all its stuff away supposed to win?
WotC included a couple of good clues in the form of Insurrection and Reins of Power. Usually, either spell is only ever going to be enough to kill one guy, so you’re better off trying to just stay alive until you are down to having one opponent, then use one or both of these to kill him.
The beauty of Reins of Power is that you can donate all your creatures to one player, then “swap” with him so that you have everything and he has nothing.
In fact, here’s a funny combo idea that could kill a whole table: Storm Herd, Hive Mind, and Suture Priest. Probably not worth the risk of running Hive Mind, unless you can drop it, the Priest and cast Storm Herd all in one turn. But, it is a way to kill the whole table.
Or you could just play a gigantic Comet Storm. If you wind up running Mana Flare, you could easily kill two or three opponents with a good Comet Storm. If you play a bunch of games with this, and find that you reliably have more life than any other player most of the time, a plain ol’ Earthquake can get the job done just as well.
Repercussion can combo with Earthquake to kill multiple players, too. Just make sure everyone has plenty of creatures via Hunted creatures, Forbidden Orchard, and judicious use of Zedruu’s donate ability, then drop Repercussion and Earthquake for a bunch. It’s likely to only work once, but that first time, no one will see it coming!
Wincat, aka Felidar Sovereign is a great choice to auto-win if you run a fair amount of countermagic or some other way to protect him long enough to win you the game.
Brion Stoutarm is good here, not big enough on his own to scare anyone, but if you happen to drop Dominus of Fealty and start grabbing other big threats and flinging them at their former controllers, he can do some serious damage.
It’s worth running an Izzet Chronarch and maybe Mnemonic Wall or Call to Mind to get back your big game-winners like Insurrection, if you fail to get the job done the first time.
Time Spiral is probably a necessity, too, along with Elixir of Immortality, because you can easily draw through most of your deck with Zedruu active. So, it’s important to have a way to restock your library if the game goes on too long. Plus, Time Spiral can hose graveyard decks and decks that try to sculpt broken hands with a bunch of tutors, or that draw 20 cards and drop Reliquary Tower.
I cut the new Celestial Force from whichever other deck it was in, and put it in Zedruu. It’s a decent beater at 7/7 but not so mighty that people panic when he hits the board. He can swing once or twice, usually, before people start to think of him as a real threat, and he’ll gain you quite a bit of life in the mean time.
Beacon of Immortality is a card that I expect to see in a lot of Zedruu decks, but then again maybe not. It might encourage people to run stuff like Sorin Markov, Magister Sphinx, or Infect stuff to get around your ridiculous life gain. Still, I can’t see Storm Herd in a deck and not think that Beacon needs to be here, too!
The land base needs a bit of work. The first thing I would recommend is Homeward Path. It can occasionally just win a game for you, if you’ve got a bunch of donated guys out and you just suddenly take them all back. But it also just keeps folks honest, hosing stuff like Geth, Lord of the Vault and Bribery. It’s pretty great to have if someone tries to attack you with any creature that isn’t their own, Homeward Path will send it back to its owner’s side of the battlefield, removing it from combat, and probably teaching that player a lesson about biting the hand that feeds.
Next up is Reliquary Tower. Just run this, damn it, but do NOT donate it!
Kor Haven, Maze of Ith, Mystifying Maze and Prahv, Spires of Order are great defensive lands (well, Prahv is too expensive to be good, but it’s still somewhat playable). Forbidden Orchard is a good pick of course. Undiscovered Paradise and Rainbow Vale are amusing, but I’m not sure how worthwhile they’d be. Contested War Zone also fits the mold but can put an aggro deck or a token deck too far ahead to be good for you or anyone else.
Mostly, I’d just run duals and stuff like Command Tower and Reflecting Pool, because Zedruu is a lot like Riku in that he needs gobs of colored mana, so you can only afford to run few colorless producers. I’d limit them to Homeward Path, Reliquary Tower and two or three of the defensive lands mentioned above. The rest should all produce colored mana. The filter lands from Shadowmoor/Eventide are top-notch and highly flexible.