One on one duels of Magic have very little use for politics. All that matters is our opponent’s life total and choosing the correct line of play to bring that number to zero as fast as possible. In a multiplayer setting however we have both the time and inclination to forge alliances, make deals or simply wait for an opportune moment to stab one another in the back. Not only is Commander more fun with more people, we are given specific cards which lend themselves more readily to the multiplayer experience. We can play the political game both with the cards we chose to use and the way we interact with our opponents during the course of the game. Let’s first take a look at what politics in EDH are all about.
Don’t Rock the Boat: perhaps the easiest way to assure your own doom in a multiplayer game is to be overly antagonistic early in the game. Attacking the player with the least-developed board state is usually the quickest way to make enemies at the table. Just like when you evaluate who to attack, you should also put some amount of consideration into who and what you target with your removal or counter-magic. Trying to counter or kill everything that your opponents play will quickly brand you as the player worth taking out first, particularly if the spell you countered or creature you killed was relatively harmless. On top of that, you will run out of resources more quickly and be missing that Terminate quite a bit when someone drops a Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (you just had to murder that poor Arbor Elf on turn 2, didn’t you?).
Sandbagging: Often the last person to pull the trigger is the one who comes out on top. “Turtling” lets you appear weak while everyone else dukes it out, leaving you free to sculpt your hand for a few turns until you’re ready to make your move. Trotting out your combo pieces early just gives everyone else more time to deal with them. You can even go so far as to grumble a little about a bad opening hand but just remember that in subsequent games, nobody will believe it when you cry wolf.
Intervening: While you can’t actually block for other people in combat, you can still help your fellow players out once in a while. Cards like Fog, while traditionally used to save yourself from losing life, can also be used to save someone else’s bacon. This generally gets a few laughs from the table and hopefully the player you saved will remember your generosity. Intervening doesn’t happen too often but building a deck specifically to do so is always a fun and rewarding experience.
Group Hug: is an archetype in multiplayer. The Group Hug deck seeks to build friendships more than win outright and hopefully by helping other players, the Group Hug deck will be left alone long enough to assemble its own win-condition. Some people play Group Hug decks simply to make the game more fun for everyone rather than worrying overmuch about winning or losing.
So why all this emphasis on appearing weak and kind? Simply put, in a game of three of more people we generally lack the resources to wage war on all fronts. If you come out of the gate swinging but can’t deal with the backlash of everyone ganging up on you then most likely you will be the first person to lose. Appearing harmless from the get-go makes it easier to forge alliances or dissuade other players from targeting you first and gives you time to lock down your victory later. So what does a deck aimed at politicking look like?
Commander: Zedruu the Greathearted
Gideon, Champion of Justice
Venser, the Sojourner
Figure of Destiny
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer
Geist of Saint Traft
Daxos of Meletis
Krenko, Mob Boss
Ruhan of the Fomori
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Dominus of Fealty
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Godhead of Awe
Numot, the Devastator
Djinn of Infinite Deceits
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Bident of Thassa
Assemble the Legion
Form of the Dragon
Ward of Bones
Path to Exile
Moment of Silence
Turn // Burn
Day of Judgment
Curse of the Swine
Temple of the False God
Prahv, Spires of Order
The Good: Zedruu generates life and card advantage while simultaneously making some allies at the table. Once we have the donation theme going, the deck can go in an number of ways for a win condition. If we’re in need of friends, donating a land is always a nice gesture. Time to finish off our weaker opponents? Zedruu can also give some very unwanted gifts which help secure our path to victory.
The Bad: Zedruu has to be on the field to give us our extra cards and once people have gotten a few extra lands from us, they can just as easily stab us in the back. Zedruu’s ability plus an ever-increasing casting cost can make him a hard tool to utilize in some situations. If we have to cast Zedruu, pay the cost for some expensive Donation target and activate Zedruu’s ability all in one turn we could be looking at spending quite a lot of mana on our play.
Key Cards: the most important components of any Zedruu list are the permanents we intend to donate. Grid Monitor, Detention Sphere and Jinxed Idol are just a few of the more low-key targets. We can complete shut out anybody not playing White by giving them Celestial Dawn or make life miserable for someone by letting them have Pyromancer’s Swath and watching their hand disappear each turn. One of my recent additions, Glacial Chasm allows us to stave off some combat damage while we let the cumulative upkeep skyrocket. When it becomes too much to bear, donate it to one of your opponents and watch it eat up their life total. In a pinch, we can donate a few tokens created by Krenko, Mob Boss, Druidic Satchel or Assemble the Legion. It is also important to have other means of giving our permanents to our opponents. Bazaar Trader, Djinn of Infinite Deceits and Switcheroo allow us to give our “friends” some gifts without endangering Zedruu.
So now that we have our life gain and card advantage, how do we close out this campaign? I decided to focus the remainder of the space in this deck on midrange UWR creatures, spells I can abuse with Sunforger and Kiki Jiki. I kept the converted mana cost of the creatures relatively low so that later in the game I could potentially cast a threat and a donation target on the same turn. Sunforger is an interesting “build around me” card and with the addition of Mistveil Plains, I can attempt to play and re-play something like Silence or Moment of Silence for a soft lock each turn. Kiki-Jiki combos infinitely with Restoration Angel, Zealous Conscripts and Pestermite. I also like the idea of making a Perplexing Chimera token with Kiki-Jiki to keep redirecting my opponent’s better plays.
Philosophy: Zedruu lets us offer an olive branch to the other people at the table. In doing so not only do we make allies, we gain life and card advantage. Zedruu can range from actually helping other players by donating spare lands to completely vicious by giving players detrimental permanents. All the while we gain an incremental advantage over our opponents. UWR colors give us access to some very powerful creatures and with the card advantage Zedruu gives, we can more easily play our bigger threats. What makes Zedruu so much fun to build and pilot is that he does not force us into any particular position at the table. We can be the aggressor or the nice guy at the drop of a hat. The most important thing about building your own Zedruu list is to not get completely sucked into the donating theme and to provide yourself some other outs, just in case the table’s other politicians decide to bump you off the campaign trail early.
So how will you run your campaign? Join us every Thursday night at Nu Games for EDH at 6pm!