Last updated on November 29, 2023
Zada, Hedron Grinder | Illustration by Chris Rallis
I like to think that there’s an aggro player deep down inside all of us. We might think we’re Commander value players, trying to close out the game with giant battlecruiser spells, but deep down we all have that primal urge to turn our creatures sideways and grind our opponents into dust.
If you’re looking for a new commander to bring out that deep-seated bloodlust but you want to do so in style, Zada, Hedron Grinder might be the goblin for you. Zada combines elements of pure aggression with spell-based combo, turning cheap, bottom-of-the-bulk-bin combat tricks into explosive win-cons.
It needs some specific deck-building choices, but Zada can bring your opponents from 40 to 0 in a hurry if built correctly. Let’s see what a typical Zada deck looks like!
Battle Cry Goblin | Illustration by April Prime
Battle Cry Goblin
Zurzoth, Chaos Rider
Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Krenko, Mob Boss
Tempt with Vengeance
Kick in the Door
Empty the Warrens
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Den of the Bugbear
Temple of the False God
Desert of the Fervent
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Zada, Hedron Grinder might seem a bit selfish at first. It wants to be targeted by instants and sorceries, but it wants to be the only target. But Zada’s not all that bad, because targeting it with a spell copies that spell for each other creature you control that can legally be targeted by it.
There are two pieces to the puzzle here: single-target spells, and cards that flood your battlefield with bodies. The more creatures you can amass, the more copies of your spells you’ll get. That said, this deck is heavily reliant on Zada, so saving it for the turn you’re about to “go off” is crucial.
Note that Zada’s goblin/ally type line gives the deck some inherent creature synergies. While the decklist today is more slanted towards the combo/spellslinger aspect of her ability, you can push it in a more tribal direction if that’s what you want.
Step one to making Zada tick is getting enough bodies on board. Every creature you control is essentially an extra copy of a spell for Zada to sling around, so your early-game priority should be flooding the board with creatures.
Some creatures like Hanweir Garrison or Loyal Apprentice can continually generate tokens over multiple turns, while a few pieces like Tempt with Vengeance and Genesis Chamber can quickly overwhelm your opponents.
Since you’re dumping so many resources into building out a board of creatures, you’re susceptible to sweeper effects. So it’s best not to overextend if you don’t have the pieces to set everything in motion yet.
There are a few spells dedicated to making your army bigger once you’ve already got things moving. Spawning Breath and Make Mischief can double your forces with Zada online. Of course, these will actually kill all of your 1-toughness creatures but will usually upgrade them into Devil or Eldrazi Spawn tokens.
Twinflame has the same effect of doubling up all your creatures for a turn.
So you’re looking at a board of dorky goblins and 1/1 tokens… now what? Let’s get the ball rolling with some cheap single-target spells! Your spells are usually divided into three main categories: the card draw, the mana generation, and the ones that deal damage (bonus points for spells that do more than one).
It’s so important to have cheap cantrips in this deck. Renegade Tactics does virtually nothing when you target your own creature, while Expedite and Crimson Wisps look pretty weak on a board of creatures that can all already attack.
Still, these target a single creature for a single mana and draw a card, which in Zada-terms means drawing a card for every creature you control. It’s not uncommon to pay and draw 10 to 15 cards.
Regardless of how you build this deck, I wouldn’t leave home without a copy of Storm-Kiln Artist. Magecraft triggers off casting and copying spells, so the Artist can help extend your plays by netting mana whenever Zada rebounds a spell.
The final piece of the puzzle is the suite of pump spells you choose to play. Most of these are interchangeable, but you want a healthy mix of spells that grant haste and trample to push through damage. You have Maximize Velocity, Reckless Charge, and Zariel, Archduke of Avernus to grant your team of creatures haste on top of cantrips.
Fists of Flame might secretly be the best spell in the deck since every copy draws you a card while pumping your creatures bigger and bigger for each copy that resolves.
Balduvian Rage on top of a trample spell can push for the win all on its own.
I also wanted to give a small shoutout to Kick in the Door. It’s a bit cute but with Zada and a large board of creatures and lets you speed run a dungeon or two. The diversity between the different dungeons should help you fill in gaps with what you’re missing (some room abilities create Treasure, some draw cards, some make creature tokens, etc.).
The Alternate Win-Cons
This deck really relies on Zada, but sometimes it dies and you’re left with a handful of mediocre cantrips and pump spells. That’s where plan B comes in handy.
Goblin Bombardment lets you sacrifice your tokens to pick off opposing creatures or hit your opponents directly. It’s not ideal since your targeted spells don’t do anything without creatures on board, but it still gives you action if your commander gets answered.
Mirrorwing Dragon works as a backup copy of Zada, giving you the same ability to multiply your spells while also being a great deterrent against opposing single-target removal spells.
The Mana Base
Mono red is limited in its ability to ramp so the deck is a little heavy on artifact-based acceleration. The usual Sol Ring and Arcane Signet are accompanied by red mana rocks like Fire Diamond and Cursed Mirror.
Since the commander is so crucial to the deck’s game plan, I’d include a copy of Jeweled Lotus if you have one on hand. Don’t worry if you’re on a budget because it’s not a necessity.
The upside to having a mono-colored commander is being able to play a healthy amount of utility lands. You can easily include Castle Embereth, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and a few cycling lands without hurting your mana base.
I’ve laid out the key categories of cards needed to make this deck work, so let’s delve a little deeper into how you should approach playing with the deck.
My biggest piece of advice is to hold off on casting Zada until you’re ready to use its ability. If you just tap out on turn 4 to cast Zada with a few other tokens on board and pass the turn, your opponents will get nervous and try to remove your commander before you untap.
You should make sure you can cast at least one spell the turn you put Zada into play, preferably a draw spell like Expedite so you can immediately refill your hand. It can be a good idea to wait until you have a haste enabler and a pump spell ready before you cast the commander if you’re not under too much pressure.
There are a few interactive spells to help push for the win. Pyroblast keeps blue counterspells at bay. Deflecting Swat gives you the flexibility to tap out and still hold up a layer of protection for Zada.
Combos and Interactions
Zada, Hedron Grinder is inherently a combo creature, so naturally, you’re going to see some strong interactions between your cards.
Storm-Kiln Artist is one of your most potent combo cards. Casting a single cantrip on Zada and copying it for all your other creatures nets you a new hand of cards, while Artist matches that with Treasure. That gives you the mana to cast all the cards you just drew and repeat this process.
Dreadhorde Arcanist is another interesting one. This card gets used mostly to cast 1-mana spells from the graveyard, but this deck can actually pump its power up and let you cast more expensive cards. Zada doesn’t care where the spells you cast come from, so Arcanist can go off with the same spell twice in one turn.
Pyroblast is mostly here to interact with those pesky blue mages. But unlike Red Elemental Blast it can target your own red permanents, it just won’t do anything. It can still meet the conditions to trigger Zada, copy itself a bunch of times, and trigger your Storm-Kiln Artist.
The final card worth mentioning is Fiery Gambit, which has a weird interaction in this deck. Gambit targets like any other spell, so it gets copied by Zada. You’ll flip coins for each individual creature you control, probably dealing three damage to most of them. But you’ll also hit your opponents for six damage every time you flip two or more coins. With a wide enough board, you might just kill your opponents with this one spell, and sometimes you’ll untap your lands and draw nine cards!
Don’t fret if you don’t own some of the more expensive cards in the decklist. Jeweled Lotus, Jeska's Will, and Phyrexian Altar might cost a pretty penny, but they’re not necessarily parts of the deck.
The core of the deck is actually cheap token makers and bulk-bin pump spells. The more expensive cards just give you a boost. If something’s out of your budget, it’s easy to find another pump spell like Titan's Strength or a token maker like Molten Birth lying around.
If Zada’s calling your name but the decklist presented here isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, there are a few other directions you can take your list.
One way is to go for a “mass polymorph” style deck where your goal is to transform all your dorky tokens into game-winning haymakers. You still want most of the token generators and the cantrips, but you’re not as interested in pump spells.
Instead, you want cards like Transmogrify, Indomitable Creativity, and Chaos Warp which exile all of your creatures and replace them with the same number of permanents from your library with Zada on board. Keep in mind that Zada gets swept up in the chaos.
This strategy requires a different take on deck building. You want most of your token makers to be non-creatures spells like Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst while you fill your library with bomby creatures, casual things like Inferno Titan, Blightsteel Colossus, and Cavalier of Flame. It can be a bit gimmicky if you don’t draw the pieces in the right order, but that’s true of the traditional Zada build too.
You probably noticed that most of the creatures in the original build are goblins, and it’s pretty easy to focus on a goblin tribal theme while keeping the same general game plan. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a few cuts for Pashalik Mons, Skirk Prospector, and Goblin Trashmaster, to name a few.
Zada’s not exactly the best goblin commander out there, but it’s a different take on that style of deck.
Zurzoth, Chaos Rider | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak
That about covers it for our deep dive on Zada. This deck combines the best of aggro and combo into its own unique deck style and makes use of cards that don’t see a lot of EDH play. There’s enough flexibility to play the cards you like and make it your own. I’m always a fan of commanders that give a home to otherwise unplayable cards.
I’d love to hear your take on this commander. If you’ve played this deck before, what did you do differently? What card choices and combos have you discovered that set your Zada deck apart from the rest? Let me know in the comments below or join the discussion in the Draftsim Discord.
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