Last updated on May 23, 2023
Zedruu the Greathearted | Illustration by Mark Zug
Some cards can only ever really exist in the Commander format. Their abilities either reference rules that don’t exist outside of the format or just aren’t effective outside of multiplayer formats. But these commanders are a joy to build around and always promise a distinctive play experience compared to any standard format.
Today’s commander is Zedruu the Greathearted, a legendary minotaur designed for politics plays in EDH. Zedruu can be your opponents’ saving grace or their biggest headache depending on how the mood strikes you. Let’s dive into what makes Zedruu so special!
Wall of Denial | Illustration by Howard Lyon
Wall of Denial
Keeper of the Accord
Khârn the Betrayer
Djinn of Infinite Deceits
An Offer You Can't Refuse
Path to Exile
Act of Aggression
Leave // Chance
Dance of the Manse
Act of Authority
Illusions of Grandeur
Sphere of Safety
Form of the Dragon
Decanter of Endless Water
Well of Lost Dreams
This Zedruu the Greathearted deck is a political deck that uses trickery and disingenuous gift-giving to control your pod and befuddle your opponents and break their decks. Zedruu decks play halfway between a group hug and a group slug archetype, and this one focuses on passing detrimental effects to your opponents while you gain life, draw cards, and drop threats left and right. The rules for “control” and “own” can get a little funky sometimes, and Zedruu uses that to its advantage to pitch static effects to other players once you’re done with them.
This deck is divided into five broad categories of cards: permanents for your opponents, permanents for yourself, ways to pass permanents around without Zedruu, control spells and threat mitigation, and lifegain and card draw synergies. I’ll also talk about how to keep up with those green decks without access to the typical ramp spells.
Zedruu the Greathearted used to be one of the only choices for a Jeskai () commander, sharing that honor with Numot, the Devastator and Ruhan of the Fomori.
Zedruu has the uniquely political ability to pass your permanents to other players to their health and benefit or for more… nefarious reasons. Once you’ve passed out a few permanents, Zedruu’s triggered ability really takes off. The advantage Zedruu creates with this ability is paramount to your success with this deck. You’re not running nearly as many tutors as the typical EDH deck, and you’ll need to hit a land drop every turn to make sure you don’t fall behind. Luckily, Zedruu also grants you a metric ton of life each turn, which makes a nice barrier should you become the obvious threat.
Permanents meant for your opponents are the heart and soul of any Zedruu deck. Putting detrimental effects into play can kneecap your opponents. Some cards give themselves away, while others need Zedruu to use its ability.
The cheapest gift for your opponents is Steel Golem. This golem and its larger cousin Grid Monitor both shut down creature decks immediately, preventing players from casting even their commanders from the command zone. An early Steel Golem spells doom for any deck without a sacrifice outlet to remove it.
Taking away their creatures is fine, but you can push this concept further. Aggressive Mining ruins any player falling behind on mana.
Rust Elemental is both great artifact removal and great damage over time, and it won’t be much of a threat if an opponent manages to swing it at you (Jinxed Idol and Jinxed Choker perform similar roles).
For those pesky tokens decks, Cinder Giant is here to keep their board clean from saprolings, vampires, soldiers, or whatever flavor of expendable creature your opponents run.
Bronze Bombshell is just here for a big seven damage when you need it.
Your real haymakers are the pseudo-lich cards that play with life totals and game loss. A player unprepared for Nine Lives finds themselves in a desperate situation when facing down a continuous damage source like Sulfuric Vortex or Mogis, God of Slaughter.
Another favorite is Illusions of Grandeur which grants you a whopping 20 life when it enters the battlefield and steals a whopping 20 life from an opponent once it leaves their battlefield. Its cumulative upkeep helps ensure it’ll die without wasting a removal spell.
In a similar vein, Form of the Dragon can bring an opponent down to five life immediately.
Transcendence is an instant win if you can pass it to another lifegain deck, but be careful: you’ll lose instantly if you have 20 or more life when it resolves and enters on your battlefield before you pass it.
Besides these punishing enchantments, cards like Goblin Cadets, Chaos Lord, Fickle Efreet, and Khârn the Betrayer encourage your opponents to swing creatures around the board, all while giving you another count on Zedruu’s upkeep ability.
A number of permanents are here to protect you, Zedruu, or your other valuable pieces.
Act of Authority passes itself to an opponent after its use, but it’s also the best noncreature removal spell that also benefits your commander.
Solitary Confinement keeps you safe from any edicts or Fireballs your opponents might keep up their sleeves.
Turf War is a really funny way to ramp this deck. It won’t be long before each successful instance of combat damage grants a player all four of the contested lands.
Wild Research is a go-to tutor in this deck, and you’ll most often find yourself searching for Brand or Leave // Chance if you don’t need removal or another specific enchantment (more on how to use these later).
You’ll also notice the triplets Frost Titan, Inferno Titan, and Sun Titan are here. This deck lacks huge threats, so these giants are merely present to provide an out to the games where you’ve played yourselves into a stax-ish stalemate. They also make actually favorable gifts to a player in need of creatures.
A Free Pass
Zedruu the Greathearted gives you access to a repeatable share effect that can be activated as many times as you have mana to pay for it. That doesn’t mean you can’t double down on that effect for consistency.
Harmless Offering does what Zedruu does, but at a less restrictive mana cost. Wrong Turn does it too, but just for creatures. It does let you pass your opponents’ creatures around, creating havoc and chaos by making one player too strong to ignore.
Bazaar Trader is the cheapest extra gifter you’re running, while Djinn of Infinite Deceits is your most expensive. The Djinn’s biggest upside (besides its big toughness) is its repeatable ability to trade any creature around the board. Don’t just give your opponent a Grid Monitor; take their Wurmcoil Engine, too!
Sudden Substitution is a weird one that acts as a pseudo-counterspell in this deck. Trade away that Steel Golem and turn around that mono-black player’s In Garruk's Wake. Or, steal a Steelshaper's Gift off an opponent.
Conjured Currency is great fun in a political game. Giving your opponents the option to steal one of your permanents isn’t always great, but you can rest easy knowing you’ll have the opportunity to get it back on your turn. Careful not to lose Zedruu the Greathearted to this effect because you’ll miss the upkeep trigger by the time you’ve regained control of it.
You want to run this game. You need the other players to be like putty in your hands or puppets suspended by your strings. There are a few nontraditional ways this Zedruu deck controls the battlefield.
First are your O-rings. Detention Sphere, Banishing Light, and the titular Oblivion Ring are excellent permanent removal and always will be. The best part is once they’ve exiled their target, ownership of the enchantment doesn’t matter and their target remains exiled.
One of the best ways to keep your pod in check is by rebalancing the playing field by changing who has access to which threats and combo pieces. Confiscate that Ashnod's Altar away from the Ghave, Guru of Spores player, then give the enchantment to someone else (ownership doesn’t change the “you” in Confiscate’s text, meaning you’ll still control the permanent no matter who controls the actual aura).
You can Act of Treason that attacking Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, then let Zedruu give it to someone else (removing the “end of turn” stipulation by superseding it with Zedruu’s ability).
You can’t forget the basic interaction and removal spells, though. Arcane Denial works best in a deck where you need to keep drawing cards.
An Offer You Can't Refuse and Path to Exile ramp your opponents into juicy targets to steal.
Disincentive attacks on you with Sphere of Safety, and when all else fails, just hit Teferi's Protection to keep all your bases covered.
Living Life and Drawing Cards
Zedruu the Greathearted can pump out a lot of value, but that doesn’t mean it has to do it alone.
Well of Lost Dreams lets you dump a bit of extra mana into an equal amount of cards, and before you know it you’ll have a hand with 10+ cards in it.
Don’t worry, you’ll probably draw into your Thought Vessel, Decanter of Endless Water, Triskaidekaphile, or Reliquary Tower eventually. The Triskaidekaphile gives you an easy out to finish the game, too.
Alright, so what do you do with all that life and all those cards once Zedruu has sufficiently Santa Claus’d your game? The easiest solution is a Felidar Sovereign. If this cool cat sticks to the field, it’s smooth sailing to the finish line unless the entire pod focuses you at once.
You can always use Aetherflux Reservoir to dish out mountains of direct damage.
But Brand, oh Brand. This is one of the only opportunities you’ll have to run Brand, and boy does it cause havoc once it resolves in the late game. Suddenly you’ll recall all those creatures to your control, clearing the board of blockers and effectively Insurrection-ing your game (Insurrection appears here, too, just for good measure).
The Mana Base
Ramping and even just mana-fixing without access to green can be challenging at times.
You’re fighting against that inconsistency by running a whopping seven mana rocks: four of which are the recognizable staples Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and the two of the three 2-color Ravnica signets that fit your color identity.
Notably, you’re running Thought Vessel and its slightly slower sibling Decanter of Endless Water to make sure you don’t overdraw and lose your spells to hand size restrictions.
Gilded Lotus also makes an appearance; ramping from five mana on turn five to nine on turn six can be game changing.
Since you don’t have Cultivates in Jeskai, you can’t afford to miss a land drop. As such, you’re running 36 lands with a smattering of cheap multicolor lands and fetches to keep the mana base affordable.
This Zedruu the Greathearted deck isn’t a cEDH deck by any means, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a brutal opponent to play against. A strong start with Zedruu is important; while you don’t absolutely need to play Zedruu on turn four, it helps to have targets for its activated ability before it hits the field. Usually, you’ll end up playing your commander on turn six or seven so you can pass a permanent immediately. As such, keeping a hand with a lot of mana is less important than keeping a hand with early control effects and counterspells.
The early game should see you setting up for Zedruu’s arrival. Cheap “gift” cards like Goblin Cadets and Humble Defector rule this stage of the game, and hopefully you’ll ramp with some signets into a Keeper of the Accord to keep pace.
You’ll want Zedruu on the field as soon as it has good targets for its ability, so you’ll need seven or more mana to make the best use of its effect. The sooner you can draw cards off Zedruu, the better. Three or more extra cards in your upkeep is what you’re shooting for.
Once you’ve sufficiently locked down the board or turned your foes against each other, you can start throwing haymakers. The triplet Titans make good all-around beaters, and they just get better while Nykthos Paragon is on the field. I’ve already mentioned how Aetherflux Reservoir will just pound your opponents with extra damage, or you can try the cheesy route and go for the Felidar Sovereign or Triskaidekaphile route.
Combos and Interactions
This Zedruu the Greathearted EDH deck isn’t running any immediately obvious infinite combos, but there are some interactions to highlight. When you gain control of a permanent or spell, “until the end of turn” effects can be superseded with Zedruu’s ability to give a different player that permanent. Act of Aggression lets you redistribute a creature at instant speed, even in the middle of combat.
Additionally, Confiscate and other Control Magic-like effects can change ownership without changing the new owner of the enchanted creature. You can Confiscate a player’s creature, then pass them the aura to tick up Zedruu’s upkeep trigger without losing control of that creature. This isn’t an intuitive interaction, but it’s essential to making those effects work in this deck.
Rule 0 Violations Check
As far as I can tell, this Zedruu deck won’t offend many Rule 0 purists. It runs a simple strategy without infinite combos and can easily be dealt with via interaction and removal. It doesn’t protect itself the best and could even be described as a battlecruiser deck.
For the cheapest prints of this deck’s singles, the total check comes out to about $155. It’s a fairly budget EDH deck, but maybe not exactly what you’re looking to spend. Let’s examine some budget options to power up or down this deck.
There are two easy cuts to make to shave nearly $45 off this deck’s price tag. Teferi's Protection is some of the best, well, protection in the game, but it’s not essential. It can easily be replaced with a Mana Tithe or even just a Counterspell. Ultimately, it’s just looking to stop one big spell from going off and destroying your board.
You can also cut Illusions of Grandeur and replace it with Delusions of Mediocrity. It’s slightly less effective, and it’ll take some work-around to actually remove from play once you’ve given it to an opponent. It’s also $0.79.
Zedruu the Greathearted has a high ceiling in terms of power. Things like Smothering Tithe and Rhystic Study slot right in. If you’re looking to stay on-theme while also spending a ton of money, might I interest you in Gilded Drake? It’s possibly the best way to trade creatures with an opponent.
This Zedruu the Greathearted splits the difference between a group hug and group slug deck. But that’s not all Zedruu’s good for. It makes a great commander for any Chaos commander deck and builds around universal effects like Possibility Storm and Eye of the Storm very well.
Or, you can get a little funky with it, and play Minotaur tribal and have access to all those powerful minotaurs with white in their color identity! You know, like, uhh, Ordruun Veteran, or blue ones like, uhh, Labyrinth Minotaur, I guess?
Sudden Substitution | Illustration by Noah Bradley
Whether it’s politics or punishment, Zedruu the Greathearted makes an excellent commander at the helm of any Jeskai deck. Its ability is uniquely white-blue-red, capturing the essence of each of those colors to produce a powerful effect that plays like a minigame each turn. Zedruu players will love setting up different puzzles for their opponents to solve while being able to claim they’re “not actually playing stax.”
How does Zedruu stack up against the newer Jeskai commanders? Are there any punishing permanents I’ve left out of our bag of gifts? Let me know in the comments, or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and don’t look a gift goat in the mouth!
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