Ah, Zedruu. This classy goat lady was my first ever commander in EDH. I remember picking her for two big reasons. First, the sheer absurdity of her ability. At first glance, it looks rather underwhelming, certainly not as awe-inspiring as other popular generals such as Kaalia of the Vast. I remember some of my friends calling her weak, which only made me like her more.
The other big reason was nostalgia. When I was a kid starting out in Magic, websites and magazines were buzzing about a new dominating deck archetype called "Trix." The entire deck revolved around two cards: Illusions of Grandeur and Donate. Looking at these two cards individually back then, I thought they were beyond terrible. Gaining 20 life temporarily was okay I guess, but spending a card to GIVE your opponent something could never be a good thing, right?
But the beauty was in the interaction. Trix would play Illusions of Grandeur, gaining 20 life, and then used Donate to give it to the opponent. When the opponent couldn't pay its upkeep, he would lose 20 life and probably lose the game. I absolutely loved the idea of that deck. You take two very silly cards and then you actually make it competitive?? Nice!
So you can see why it was love at first sight for me. Zedruu embodies the essence of Donate, but with a jolt of extra power that keeps her competitive in a more high-powered format. As icing on the cake, she came in a $30 preconstructed commander deck already, so I could pick her up and play immediately.
Zedruu can be an amazing source of lifegain and card draw. In a normal match, I'm usually drawing 2-4 extra cards and gaining 2-4 life each turn at some point in the mid/lategame. This means you don't have to put as much card draw into your deck as you'd usually do. She's very good at keeping your hand filled!
To trigger her ability you need to give stuff away, so it's best to be giving stuff that you don't need anymore. Permanents that you play primarily for their Enter the Battlefield effects are prime candidates to give away, like Izzet Chronarch or Snapcaster Mage. These guys do useful things when you cast them but then just sit on the battlefield as vanilla weenies, so why not donate them away when you don't need them anymore? There's also permanents that do their thing regardless of who is currently controlling them. Global effects like Howling Mine effects each player equally regardless of who the controller is, and targeted enchantments like Arrest don't change either.
Of course, there's also the side of Zedruu that can play like Trix, giving away stuff that hurts the opponent to have. Illusions of Grandeur was already mentioned, but there are a ton of sweet things to give away, from the mischievous Bronze Bombshell to the downright evil Celestial Dawn, which can completely lock out non-white decks and probably have things thrown at you.
As for the colors, RUW is a nice slice of the pie to have. You have access to blue's counters and card draw while still being able to exile (getting around indestructible) any problematic permanent on the board, something unique to RUW. No other color combination is so well-positioned to handle the huge variety of threats in this format.
Zedruu is a lover, not a fighter. A 2/4 body for 4cmc is nothing in EDH. In games, this usually means I take a little more damage than other commanders early on because Zedruu isn't the best blocker.
Her ability itself is very mana-intensive. Spending RUW for each donate can tie up your mana very quickly. Her payoff also ceases when she or your donated permanents are no longer in play. Speaking for myself, my Zedruu gets targeted A LOT, because people don't want me to draw lots of cards. Her donated permanents don't always last long either. If you give someone a random 1/1 dork, you can usually expect it to be killed off as soon as it can attack. By itself, Zedruu's draw/lifegain engine is slow and not always reliable.
Her color combination's biggest weakness is mana ramp. This is true for every multicolor deck not running green. There's still plenty of good options, but green always the best in this regard.
Goodstuff Zedruu Cards:
You can find Commander staples everywhere, but here are some cards that are superb specifically in Zedruu decks. They play up Zedruu's strengths while shore up her weaknesses:
These two cards provide enormous benefit for decks running this color combination. Tutoring is extremely powerful in Commander, and these are two of the best tutoring engines in the format. If you are in the right colors to run these cards, then you better make sure to run these cards, they're simply that good. I would recommend a small toolbox of silver bullets to go along with both these cards.
For Sunforger, I like running at least one counterspell, creature removal, enchantment removal, etc. Some good candidates include:
Wild Research's instant toolbox has overlap with Sunforger's. For enchantments, I suggest the ones that I talk about just below.
Already used the card you wanted to tutor for with Sunforger / Wild Research? Or did you unfortunately discard it? No worries. Just run Mistveil Plains. Tuck the card back into your deck and tutor for it again!
All these cards deal with a threatening card and are perfect donate candidates with Zedruu. Arrest and Faith's Fetters are great answers against problematic generals. Like tuck effects, these enchantments "remove" the general from play without letting it go back to the command zone, but with Zedruu they have the added benefit of being fantastic donate targets. Gilded Drake is the only pricey card of the bunch, around $30 last I checked, but the others are very cheap.
These cards are can cripple or downright beat opponents if you donate them away, at little to no risk to yourself. Illusions of Grandeur is a classic and a great 20life swing. Statecraft can shut down a threatening army or make your army better defenders. But the strongest card is without a doubt Celestial Dawn. Dawn fixes your mana, which is alright, but if you give it to an opponent that doesn't have a white defender, all his lands tap for white mana.. which, due to the Commander rules, means they tap for colorless mana. Non-land sources can still tap for colored mana, but otherwise your unfortunate victim can no longer cast colored spells until the enchantment is removed. Since Dawn usually removes the victim's ability to continue playing, I caution running the card. Make sure you're using the card only in an environment where it's acceptable.
There are tons of other "Trixy" cards out there. Here are some others:
I don't like these options as much. They're either too weak of an effect or they carry a large risk. You don't want to cast Steel Golem and then have an opponent kill your Zedruu in response. To me, they aren't worth the risk.
As I said earlier, Zedruu's donate ability is very mana-intensive. Good cards that just so happen to donate permanents as part of the effect are a godsend for speeding up your deck. I consider these four as the very best at exchanging permanents.
There are more options of course, but I consider them inferior to the top four:
Ramp is important for every deck, and I recommend around ~10 in every deck. For Zedruu, ramp is VERY important, because of how mana-hungry her ability is. Since you are tri-color and Zedruu's ability costs WUR, I value color mana ramp higher than usual.
I've listed all the usual great artifact ramp, but one specifically awesome Zedruu ramp card is Knight of the White Orchid. For a mere 2cc, lil' guy ramps you (fetching a dual land if you want) and then can be donated away! Fantastic.
Land Tax is all kinds of awesome as well. You'll never miss land drops while this baby is on the field. But wait, you're getting 3 lands each time the trigger resolves, there's no way you can put them all to use! What will you do with that fistful of lands in hand? A couple things, actually. For example:
+ = Discard excess lands for the buyback.
+ or = A hand full of extra lands significantly lowers the risk of randomly discarding an important card.
Other Good Donate Targets:
There's an endless amount of great donate targets. These are my top four. Elspeth is a powerhouse that makes donateable soldier tokens and while working towards her almighty ultimate. Keep and Pasture are mana-intensive repeatable token makers to donate away, and Snapcaster is obviously an easy inclusion.
I can go on and on about good donate targets. A good rule of thumb is anything with an ETB effect is generally good with Zedruu. Just pick and choose what fits your deck and your curve. More examples:
Need something you donated back, or want to repeat one of your permanent's ETB effect? Venser will do it for you, all while powering up to his game-ending finisher. The Blinkmaster is particularly brutal with staple Zedruu cards. For example:
+ = Steal ALL the creatures!
+ = Drain 20 life, again and again..
Zedruu, the Master Politician:
Zedruu isn't the most intimidating general out there. There are no degenerate combos revolving around her like Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. She isn't fearsome in combat like Kaalia of the Vast. She lack the raw, unbridled power of The Mimeoplasm. She's slow, somewhat clunky, and downright weird looking. A 2/4 goat minotaur llama... thing.. puzzles people more than it scares them. So, what makes her good when she clearly is lacking so much in the BOOM department?
In truth, her lack of raw power is exactly what makes her so strong.
Commander is a format based heavily on politics. It's very hard to beat multiple opponents that are teaming up against you before you've "set up." You can have a better deck than everyone else at the table, but that will amount for squat if everyone's pointing all their removal spells at your permanents before your deck can do its thing. Therefore you usually want to convince your opponents to leave you alone for as long as possible. People always downplay their own situation while trying to point the table's ire at someone else, whether justified or not.
When you're playing Zedruu, you're probably the least threatening general in your opponent's eyes right off the bat. In fact, Zedruu can be downright helpful. You can forge alliances by feeding people what they need and as gratitude they'll leave you alone while you quietly stack cards and life. You can also build up an impenetrable defense to discourage attacks. Either way, being nonthreatening can be just as powerful, if not more so, than having the scariest board position.
Compare that to commanders like Kaervek the Merciless. This guy is like Emperor Palpatine screaming, "UNLIMITED POWERRRRRRR!!" But with great power comes great hate, and from turn 1 you can bet that everyone will be teaming up against him, which is never a good position to be in. They'll be killing his creatures, destroying his artifacts / enchantments / lands, and attacking him. Kaervek can still win, sure, but if his opponent's decks/draws are somewhat comparable to his own then it will be very, very tough to do so.
That's why Wizards named Zedruu's preconstructed "Political Puppets." Her true power is the political aspect of multiplayer, where she can manipulate her opponents to leave her alone and duke it out amongst themselves while her massive draw engine lets her set up the eventual kill.
The preconstructed deck laid a solid groundwork to build a competitive political deck. I've built upon it, combining it with the Zedruu goodstuff cards that I've mentioned earlier. Slap on some general Commander staples and voila, this is my deck:
A quick explanation of my deck's political side:
Don't Attack Me:
All these cards discourage opponents from hurting you. Gisela is by far the best of the lot. Just plop her down and watch your enemies tear each other apart! It's lovely.
Once you've established your defenses and your opponents have wasted enough resources killing each other, it's time to win the game. The first three especially will paint a massive target on you, but if you play them at the right time then it won't really matter.
That's All, Folks!
Thanks for reading. For my next article, I'd like to pick a general that you guys suggest, as I've run out of my own decks to talk about. Simply give me a general and any specific restrictions that you want (card / deck budget, archetype, etc) and I'll do my best to make a deck out of it.