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Dec 25 2013 11:51am
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Commander Johnny-Boosh Vol V: 'Tis the Season

Season's Greetings, oh loyal and new fans of Commander-Johnny Boosh: The article series that loves Commander and all things johnny-combo!

Last year, 'round this time, I wrote a Holiday-themed article. I am actually quite proud of it. That article--if you haven't read it-- showcased Classic decks that were based around Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza respectively. It also featured a 100-card-singleton deck that focused on recreating Charles Dickens' Holiday classic: A Christmas Carol, in magic-deck format. 
That article got a lot of positive feedback from the MTGO community, the magic-playing community in general (whether it be paper or virtual), and I even got some PMs from Wizards' staff who read it and wanted to applaud my efforts.

While all of that is awesome, it also makes it sort of hard to follow up on.  Peter Jackson directed the LOTR trilogy to resounding positive critical reception. He is now doing the Hobbit as a 373-part miniseries, and if it doesn't stand up to LOTR standards, he's going to be panned worse than if the Hobbit was his only foray into Tolkien-dom. Having a successful (in terms of holiday article the first time around means this time, we have to try to equal its energy.

What's the one fundamental truth about "Annual Gift Holiday" season? If you are lighting your Kwanza Kinara, your Hanukah Menorah, or your Xmas tree, what's the one thing, especially kids, are expecting out of the holidays? GIFTS / PRESENTS

So no matter what your religion is, or whatever lack-of-religion you have, if you celebrate Kwanza, Hanukah, Xmas, Festivus, Solstace-- you are probably giving or getting--usually both-- gifts.

Today's deck is all about giving (and receiving) gifts. Today's Commander deck is titled: 'Tis the Season, and features the mosty gift-givingest of gift-giving Magic Cards: Zedruu the Greathearted.

Also, a lil' disclaimer: I have found various references online to Zedruu being female. I've always referred to Zedruu as a he, and in this article he plays the role of Santa. I hope you all understand, I am just not one to quibble over gender-specifics when it comes to goat-minotaurs, and I hope the MTG/MTGO community sides with me on that.

Let's take a brief moment to examine our stand-in Santa Claus. Zedruu is an amazing Commander for the johnny-inclined. His abilities distinctly scream "build around me." His abilities are also not-the-easiest to build around, which often scares Spikes and Timmies into putting him back in their collection and building a Talrand or Purphoros deck instead. 

Zedruu's first ability: At the beginning of your upkeep, you gain X life and draw X cards, where X is the number of permanents you own that your opponents control. directly plays off his second ability: RedWhiteBlue: Target opponent gains control of target permanent you control.

Zedruu gives gifts to your opponent. Giving away permanents is not something that's normal to Magic the Gathering. Usually, you want to keep your stuff. Besides Donate/Illusions of Grandeur; this archetype hasn't really seen much play. I know a lot of folks who thought he was a great concept, bought the premade Commander deck, and were thoroughly disappointed. I thought of him as just the right kind of challenge for my Johnny brain, and have been tweaking and re-working my decklist for some time.

Now, it's always a pleasant feeling to give someone a gift. I have long enjoyed they act of giving more than that of receiving-- but you don't want to walk away from a Holiday Gift Grab-bag empty-handed, so this deck also features many ways to get gifts from your opponent-- even if you have to choose the gift yourself. Then there's cards like Juxtapose or Legerdemain and so-on which actually simulate, Magic-wise, gift exchanges.  If December means winter holidays and winter holidays mean gift giving and getting well then Zedruu is the deck to encompass the season.

Give, Get, Exchange


  • Zedruu is pivotal to the deck. I wish I had more wiggle room for Hexproof and Shroud granting equipment. I also kinda wish I could put in Illusionist's Bracers, but really the only creatures who would benefit from it are Gwafa, Nin, Commander 2013's Djinn (see bullet #4), Zeddy, Preacher, and Siege-gangz0rz.
  • Transcendence is such a fun card to donate to someone, but because you will most likely have over 20 life (as this is a Commander game), you'll die before you can give it to someone. I suppose you could Stifle it first, but then we have a two card combo in a 99/100 card deck that only potentially works sometimes.
  • Lich's Tomb seems like a fun card to give away to someone else, but as soon as that person loses life they can just sacrifice the Tomb to satisfy the Tomb's own trigger. The only time this works well is if you Zedruu it to someone and then Banefire them to cause havoc. My Give/Get/Exchange Zedruu deck does not play out that way, and the Tomb is useless to us.
  • Djinn of Infinite Deceits is not available online until December 20, 2013. Luckily it is in the Evasive Manuevers deck, which features Roon of the Hidden Realm-- a must-have for me, so I plan on purchasing that deck anyway. As soon as I do, bingo-bango, Djinnny-pants is headed into the deck list.
  • This deck is RWU instead of RG or RGW, which are more appropriately color themes for a Christmas deck, but at least we can take solace in the blue and white representing Hanukah; the red and white representing Santa's clothing choices; and red, white, and blue signifying the USA where consumerism runs rampant and the winter holidays are just one big reason to buy thangs-- gifts, the theme of the deck. Comin' back full circle. 

DECK the halls with tons of johnny combos, fa-la-la-la:

Zedruu the Kringle
'Tis the season for gettin' & givin' stuff
1 Bronze Bombshell
1 Grid Monitor
1 Psychosis Crawler
1 Steel Golem
1 Bazaar Trader
1 Dominus of Fealty
1 Gilded Drake
1 Preacher
1 Sage of Epityr
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Spawnbroker
1 Vedalken Plotter
1 Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer
1 Nin, the Pain Artist
1 Taniwha
1 Akroan Horse
Archwing Dragon 
17 cards

Other Spells
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Howling Mine
1 Sol Ring
1 Shifting Borders
1 Jinxed Choker
1 Jinxed Idol
1 Pithing Needle
1 Faith's Fetters
1 Prison Term
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Delusions of Mediocrity
1 Embargo
1 Illusions of Grandeur
1 Puca's Mischief
1 Statecraft
1 Thought Lash
1 Custody Battle
1 Curse of Echoes
1 Capsize
1 Banishing Stroke
1 Brainstorm
1 Condemn
1 Lightning Helix
1 Oblation
1 Reins of Power
1 Spin into Myth
1 Warleader's Helix
1 Mindslaver
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Jace Beleren
1 Ral Zarek
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Acquire
1 Bribery
1 Cultural Exchange
1 Donate
1 Juxtapose
1 Legerdemain
1 Political Trickery
1 Ponder
1 Ray of Command
1 Preordain
1 Serum Visions
1 Switcheroo
1 Telemin Performance
Helm of Obedience
45 cards
5 Island
5 Mountain
5 Plains
1 Buried Ruin
1 City of Brass
1 Clifftop Retreat
1 Command Tower
1 Diamond Valley
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Tolaria West
1 Halimar Depths
1 Maze of Ith
1 Nimbus Maze
1 Skycloud Expanse
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Thawing Glaciers
1 Thespian's Stage
1 Vesuva
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Grand Coliseum
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Academy Ruins
1 Plateau
37 cards

1 Zedruu the Greathearted
1 cards


This particular deck has many, many layers of Johnny-- and it's themed around gift exchanging. There is a lot of ground to cover, so bear with me. Some of the card choices may be repeatedly talked about because of that particular card's numerous interactions.

Part I: Gift Giving:


Zedruu the Greathearted: The main pubah of the deck, he can give any permanent to your opponent for the cost of RedWhiteBlue, as many times as you can pay it.
Bazaar Trader: This is great because all you have to do is tap him. He can't be abused multiple times, and he can't pass on enchantments, but you can save three mana once a turn to pass on something like a Bronze Bombshell.
Donate: The original tried and true method of giving your opponent something. This has nearly been cut from the deck so many times, and every time I am about to chuck it in favor of something else, I play a game where Zedruu is put on the bottom of my library, and I draw Donate which allows me to pass an Embargo or something that I sorely needed to give to my opponent.
Puca's Mischief: This sort of falls under the Exchange program, but I only have four gift-givers so I opted to include it here as well.

Gifts You Really Wanna Give:

Bronze Bombshell: Pairs so awesomely with Academy Ruins. I much prefer that combo over the Mindslaver lock which this deck has, but I never, ever abuse.
Grid Monitor, Steel Golem: Both of these are hilarious to hand off. This deck does not have many creatures, so handing away a 4/6 might not be as awesome as you planned. Luckily you can give your opponent a Statecraft, or play Prison Term, Faith's Fetters, or Embargo.
Taniwha: Again, a 7/7 trampler is a dangerous creature to just give away. Making all your opponents face manascrew every other turn kind of evens it out.
Thought Lash: First off, try not to vomit chunks on your good shoes when you stare at the artwork. Secondly, if you can donate and then Capsize, while hilarious for you, your opponent will effing hate you. If you don't Capsize it, you run the risk of it being beneficial despite its nasty drawback. If you are going full gusto with damage from Jinxed Choker or a donated Embargo or Psychosis Crawler, and you donate the Lash, you may find your opponent exiling cards to stay alive long enough to cast Kozilek and mess up your bizzzness. I have personally played a game with this deck where I let a Jinxed Choker build and build. Eventually, my opponent and I were at very little life. When I got handed the choker, I was at 5, while my opponent was at 12. I dropped my Thought Lash, and didn't donate it away. I kept it. My opponent knew that I could now PREVENT DAMAGE WITH A BLUE CARD, something rather unusual, and would live through the choker, thus assuring his death. He was baffled to see a Thought Lash win me the game, and quite frankly-- I was to. Such is the versatility of this deck. It surprises even me.
(Delusions of Mediocrity): Gain 10, hand it off, and even if you never bounce it you at least know you've gained that 10 free and clear.
Illusions of Grandeur: Gain 20, hand it off, bounce it for hilarity, or let your opponent slowly eat up mana resources to prevent the 20 coming to their dome.
Jinxed Idol: This card is so excellent for so many reasons. First off, as we'll cover in the Gift-Getting section, this deck steals creatures (gifts), and you can use stolen creatures to sacrifice to it. If you have no sacrifice outlet, you can just hand it off with Zedruu or the Bazaar Trader. If your opponent sacrifices a creature, you can just give them the idol back with a Gift-Giver on your end. There's a lot of back and forth, or, re-gifting, but it adds a fun element.
Jinxed Choker: Didja read the Thought Lash blurb? I love the choker, by the by. So underrated. It's a great back and forth artifact.
Embargo: Amazing card. Worth the 2 damage but equally fun to give it away and make that 2 damage your opponent's burden. No matter who owns it, it does the same trick.
Statecraft: This card also works on multiple levels. If you have a field of 1/1 soldiers courtesy of Assemble the Legion or Elspeth, Knight-Errant but your opponent has a field of Wurmcoil Engines, then you'd love to have this card out to make sure your soldiers stick around to continually block. But, if you have a field of jack-nothing and your opponent has a field of Worldspine Wurms and Primordial Hydras, then you want to donate the Statecraft to them and sick back laughing.
Akroan Horse: You have to give this away. Which is awesome because you need soldier tokens for gift exchanging and chump blockers and such.

Innocuous Gifts to Give:

Sage of Epityr: This 1/1 is useless after his EtB trigger. Give him away, though he may become a chump blocker or a sacrifice outlet for your opponent. He's more suited for exchanging.
Pithing Needle: Once you call the card, it doesn't matter who controls the needle. The effect is the same. Homeward Path renders this deck fairly useless-- at least a good portion of it. I explicitly popped in ol' pithy here as a solution to that land.
Faith's Fetters: Once something is fettered, it doesn't matter who controls the aura.
Curse of Echoes: Once you enchant your opponent, it doesn't matter who controls the aura. Also this card is heinous, and always a burden.
Howling Mine: Once you pop this out, it doesn't matter who controls it because everyone is still drawing cards.
Custody Battle: I'll go into more detail on this card a little later on in the article, but again this aura's controller doesn't matter.
Innocuous gifts are great to give away in order to exploit Zedruu's first ability: At the beginning of your upkeep, you gain X life and draw X cards, where X is the number of permanents you own that your opponents control.

Part II: Gift-Getting:

Usually, the word opponent, by default, means the only gifts they wanna give you are the gifts of pain! So in order for our Holiday Season to be less one-sided in the gift department, you kind of just have to take your gifts.

Stealin' Gifts:

Bribery: This card is essential if you play both blue in your deck. Commander boasts a lot of powerful creatures, you can usually find something worth far more than the 5 mana you spent.
Acquire: Ditto pants vis a vis artifacts.
Gilded Drake: I don't often extol the virtues of cards that are nearly ten bucks, but this is ten bucks well spent. The two mana CMC is broken. This deck has Ral Zarek,Capsize, the Helixes, ways to tap him down... I'm not worried about a 3/3 flier.. it's worth the trade off If I just stole your Grand Arbiter Augustin IV commander.
Telemin Performance: You get something random, but it's worth it for the fun factor and for getting one more body from your opponent.
Mindslaver: Steal someone's turn! What a gift! Abuse it with Academy Ruins at your soul's peril.
Helm of Obedience: I know this card interacts with other cards to become abusive and infino-evil. My love of the helm began back when Alliances was just a set being previewed in Inquest-- back when these here interwebs were on modems and Magic information was more easily disseminated through magazines. Man, I'm old. Anyway this here helm is the first card I can recall that I knew about before it actually came out, that I sought out to purchase as soon as it did. I actually hunted everywhere for it. Ebay was not much of anything at this point in history. Eventually I went to a game store and found a French version for $7 back in 1996. I have always held a fondness for the card because of this anecdote, and whenever I can squeeze it into a deck's theme, I do.

Temporarily Theivin' Gifts:

All of these go smashingly with Jinxed Idol:

Ray of Command: Instant speed; have loved it since its creation.
Preacher: Sometimes its fun to make an opponent do a sophie's choice on their stuff.
Dominus of Fealty: Repeated snatching of opponent creature resources.

All of these card can be great if you want to cast Cultural Exchange or Switcheroo or etc, because you can snag a creature and then permanently exchange it for an opponent's better creature.

Part III: Gift Exchange!:

Switcheroo, Cultural Exchange, Juxtapose, Legerdemain, Spawnbroker: I'll trade ya that for this!
Shifting Borders, Vedalken Plotter, Political Trickery: Land exchanging. Sometimes I'll swamp my mountain for your mountain just to allow Zedruu to give me some cards and life. Sometimes I'll swamp my City of Brass for your Command Tower. Devilish, I know. My absolute favorite interaction, though, is to have out an untapped Thawing Glaciers, activate it, then swamp it for an opponent's land. At end of turn, it'll come back to your hand, and you just made off with a free land and your opponent is one land down. Sort of paramount to Land Destruction, which I revile, but the cleverness factor wins me over.
Reins of Power: This is only temporary, so I had brain-pains as to where to place it in the article, but you are exchanging your creatures for your opponent's, for one turn. You can always wait until Zedruu's life-gain/card-draw ability hits the stack, then cast this instant, and gain a lot of life and a lot of card advantage.
Honorable Mentions:
Puca's Mischief & Gilded Drake: Both of these cards appeared in other categories/portions of this article-- but, in essence, they are truly cards that encompass Gift Exchanging.

 Custody Battle is amazing for so many reasons.

First off, I love it's top-down design. I love it's name, I love how it chaotic it can make things, especially in multiplayer.

Also, it totally embodies the spirit of a Gift Grab Bag. Have you ever played? Where everyone brings a grab bag gift and then takes a number out of a hat and gift swapping and deviousness and friends turned foe all takes place?

Ahh... the holidays. 

Part IV: The Rest:

The Remaining Xmas Carollers:

...the remaining creatures left to talk about, & the Planeswalkers...

Psychosis Crawler: This deck has a high propensity for you drawing cards. You go the Preordain gang of usual suspects; you have Zedruu and Howling Mine, and Jace, and Nin (talked about right below), and Gwafa (below that), and Tamiyo and Oblation, and numerous other means-- plus the good old fashioned draw step.
Nin, the Pain Artist: Ok This card epically interacts with the stuff you steal from Preacher, or the Dominus, or what have you. You can also target your tokens. If only I could have squeezed in Stuffy Doll....
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer: Even more epic, imo. This guy is great for regular Control utility; for temporarily stolen creatures before they return home; for Archwing or tokens just to be able to draw a card, for Gilded Drake as his trigger hits the stack before you pass him off, and for anything you plan on trading with the various Gift Exchange cards listed above. EPIC.
Archwing Dragon: So hilarious when paired with the various Gift Exchange cards listed above.
Siege-Gang Commander: Makes tokens, good for the tons of uses for tokens already talked about. Also control utility as siegey can do 2 damage per sac'ed gobbo.
Assemble the Legion: -- Not a creature, but it makes a lot of tokens for our various needs.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant: Token maker, creature pumper, indestructibility-granting limit break.
Jace Beleren: Card draw, Card draw, Card Draw!
Ral Zarek: First off, this deck is sorta wacky: so random coin flip extra turns really appeals to me in this deck anyway. His first ability is amazing with Embargo; his second ability is always useful.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage: Amazing with Embargo, Card Draw, and the limit break is epic!

Batman's Utility Belt:

Elixir of Immortality: A lot of trickery, thievery, chicanery, and skullduggery in this deck. The only way to make it more fun would be to be able to do all your nonsense all over again.
Sol Ring: Auto-include.
Howling Mine: Card Drawing for everyone; an artifact easily given to an opponent without ruining your board presence.
Prison Term, Faith's Fetters: The Term is in here because you are handing off 7/7 tramplers and 4/6 monitors, and you may want to make sure that doesn't come back to bite you. Plus the added ability to move it to a more threatening... um, threat, is great. The fetters have a similar reason for being included, but gain you four and you can pass off control of it after it's cast and attached without it affecting game-state except to help you with Zedruu. Both of these are good opposing-Commander hosers.
Oblation: Commander hoser, but look at it closer. It says "The Owner..." you can target a creature on your opponent's field that you gave him/her, like Gilded Drake, remove the threat and net two cards.
Condemn, Banishing Stroke, Spin into Myth: Commander hosers.
Preordain, Serum Visions, Ponder, Brainstorm, (and Sage of Epityr): Deck sifting.
Pithing Needle: Call Homeward Path.
Lightning Helix, Warleader's Helix: Auto includes for me in decks containing both red and white. Always useful.
CAPSIZE: OH MY GLORY-- is this card useful? Bounce Gilded Drake; Bounce the Delusions or Illusions; Bounce the Thought Lash; Bounce opposing Commanders; Bounce the





  PART V: Lands:

Normally I hate talking about land choices. I left out obvious choices, and instead am speaking on particulars.

Buried Ruin: A lotta artifacts in this deck, and this is a nice way to get a hosed one back, or one more free turn off the Mindslaver, or one more Bombshell 7 damage ka-boom.
Diamond Valley: There's token makers and stealing opponents' creatures in this deck.
Maze of Ith: Auto-include.
Thawing Glaciers: Please see the Gift Exchange section above, to see why this card is epic in this deck.
Thespian's Stage, Vesuva: Copying thangs is always useful. Last game I played Zedruu in, I used both of these cards to copy my Maze of Ith, thus netting me three in a singleton format. I had out Ral, and Tamiyo, and a handful of responses to threats in my hand, and eventually my opponent had no wiggle room to attack or defeat me, and conceded. I never make a Commander deck without these two lands
Academy Ruins: Great combo with Bronze Bombshell; Heinous combo with Mindslaver; useful for getting back the cache of artifacts your deck sports which are sure to be targeted and hosed.

Unlike last year's Holiday article, which, as I said, I'm proud of, and still love and recommend, this year's posses a deck that's not just whimsy and easily frustrating to play. This deck is F-U-N-! to play. I love it, and keep finding new interactions within the deck, and new fun games with all sorts of opposing commanders. I've had games where I was clearly winning and then it turned into a crapshow quickly and I  got down to 4 life only to bounce back and begin causing shenanigans again.

Some of the revisions I've already done to this deck would be taking out Insurrection since its CMC was too high; Removing Conquering Manticore, since often opponents would cast Bribery, steal something very useful from me for a turn and then find a way to heinously remove it or at least whack me with it. Right now the usual target is Gilded Drake when I face an opposing Bribery but I can't bring myself to remove it from my deck.  I tried to keep the relative CMC of cards down so I could easily abuse Zedruu's 3-mana ability, and so I wasn't facing mana-screw in a deck that has three colors with barely any ramp in each. I might take out a Serum Visions or Ponder for either a Tithe, or perhaps an Enlightened Tutor or Mystical Tutor. I haven't decided. Custody Battle is certainly in the deck for a spot of whimsy, and even though it can be useful, could easily be subbed out for something far more useful. I also sort of wish I could find ways to insert Control Magic and it's ilk, i.e. Corrupted Conscience.
In its current form, I have won some games and lost some games, but, unless the deck doesn't get going and/or you get Commander-elf-balled, then the games always play out fun--regardless of the win. I can't think of a more fitting Commander deck to envelope the sentiments of the season. This is both heart-warming and social commentary. The deck feature giving and getting, and their respective joys and solidifes the Holidays-- but the getting part boils down to thievery, skullduggery, WANT, WANT, WANT. That's consumerism. That's the layer of paint beneath the veener of holiday family togetherness. We all love one another, but if you give me that Grave Titan out of your deck, I'll love ya more... this holiday season.
Finally: Recently it was November, and here in the good ol' U.S. of A., we eat the frak outta some turkey and drink some midday wine and pass out from over eating. I bring this up for two reasons. Firstly, I regret not finishing a holiday Thanksgiving article in time. I started a new, amazing job and was far too engaged to make a deadline. Also finding a commander was tough. A lot of card choices would have required explanation-- like I put in Avacyn's Pilgrim because.. you know, pilgrims! But I also put in Famine, Contagion, Massacre, Torture, Sadistic Glee, and Pestilence because Americans were horrible to the native Americans. Really, the only card choice I was totally for certain on, was Horn of Plenty.
The second reason for bringing up Thanksgiving is because there's this ingrained guilt around that holiday that you have be thankful for all that you have. I mean, I'm not horrid, you should be thankful all the time anyway of course, but in Nov if you are American, you kinda go about Facebook-status'ing your reasons to be thankful. Well I never did any of that.
But I did want to say, honestly, I'm thankful for Magic the Gathering.
Yes, I spend money on it, and yes, I asked for gift certificates to from relatives for Xmas and I totally already participated in a gift exchange online through MTGO with a buddy of mine. It's a product that I throw money at but it has been a constant in my life since its inception and my inception into semi-cognitive thought (I was 13 at the time). I have played it with my wife during some of our first dates, I met all of my college friends by playing it, some of whom I attended their wedding in mandatory star trek admiral's dress whites-- I'm rambling but I don't care, my 19-month old plays with (paper) islands-- putting them in his tonka dumptruck, and I know MTGO has had some issues, but I'm a casual player, I play for fun. And I can play MTGO with anyone at any time while sitting in my jammies, eating eggnog glutenfree french toast. And I'm pretty darn thankful for that, and for all the people who have enhanced my life that I've met through this game.
Also thankful for the 'nog GF french toast. Oh and anyone who reads this and likes my articles Coal Golems in stockings for critics and naysayers! 

Happy Holidays Y'all


adam_the_mentat -
atomicboosh - MTGO client