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Budget Commander: Dance With The Devil | Zurzoth, Chaos Rider | $50, $100, $200

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With both M21 and Jumpstart being fully previewed back to back there's been a huge influx of new commanders to brew around! To figure out what you all want to see, I asked my Twitter followers to choose what you want to see next on Budget Commander.

I figured Bruvac the Grandiloquent would win by a landslide as Mill has long been a casual favorite and there's never been such an obvious Mill commander ever printed before. Boy was I wrong: Zurzoth, Chaos Rider is the clear favorite on Twitter. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

Commander Price Excluded

Jumpstart is still a few weeks away from hitting the shelves, meaning there's fluctuating demand but no supply. Because of this, Zurzoth, Chaos Rider's preorder price is both highly volatile and inflated: as I'm typing this up the price is $18 but it'll change by the time this article is published and then tank within a few weeks after the set's release.

Because of the high price volatility of the commander relative to the rest of the deck, I'll be excluding Zurzoth's price tag from the overall sample deck prices. My intent is not to mislead/clickbait but to give a more accurate representation of the deck's cost.

Dance With The Devil

When I first saw Zurzoth, Chaos Rider, I initially dismissed it as nothing more than a janky Devil Tribal commander. While devils are a popular fantasy staple, in Magic there's not a lot of Devil creatures or spells that create them, and even fewer that make much impact in Commander. Sure, you can make a Devil Tribal deck, but it's not powerful or deep enough of an archetype to excite me personally.

However, I was severely underestimating Zurzoth's abilities. The truth is that Zurzoth is the only Devil you need to quickly churn out an army of Devil tokens that will blow up your opponents' plans. Here's how we're going to do it (assume it's a typical 4-Player FFA game):

  1. Fiendish combat. Simply attacking with Devils will cause you and the defending player to draw and discard a card at random, creating one Devil token per opponent you attack. This creates up to three Devil tokens on your attack step.
  2. Infernal card draw. Our combat step isn't the only way we can create Devil tokens. We can use symmetrical card draw like Temple Bell to have everyone draw a card, which automatically makes us friends with everyone at the table. Doing this on our turn creates three Devil tokens, but we can also use this on an opponent's turn to create 2 tokens as well.
  3. Explosive Pings. Once we've amassed an army of Devils, we use them for various nefarious purposes, sacrificing them for mana to Ashnod's Altar or turning them into lethal threats with cards like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell

The end result is an aggressive, low-costed Group Slug deck that draws tons of cards for everyone while flooding the board with Devils which we then turn into lethal pinging threats. It's a simple but effective strategy!

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Fiendish Entourage

While Zurzoth, Chaos Rider will provide the bulk of our Devils, there are a few other Devils or Devil generators that are worth considering in our deck, as they will help us quickly and consistently maximize the amount of tokens we're making each combat with Zurzoth. Fiendish Duo is the best of these, doubling not only the damage we deal to our opponents but also the damage our opponents do to anyone other than us. Hellrider is another great way to significantly boost the damage of our 1/1 tokens. Beyond that, Wildfire Devils is a sweet source of card advantage, and Vengeful Devil adds additional pinging as our 1/1's die for value.

There are also a few cards that create Devil tokens. The best of these is Tibalt, Rakish Instigator: you can make two Devils over the course of two turns which is an okay rate for three mana, but also Tibalt's passive ability to deny opponents lifegain can randomly be very powerful in certain playgroups, completely shutting down Lifegain strategies. There's also Dance with Devils and Devils' Playground, neither are exciting cards on their own but are far more powerful in our deck.

Finally there's a couple changelings that count as Devils, but most of them are unimpressive. The only one I'd highly recommend is Taurean Mauler, which can quickly grow into a huge threat for just three mana.

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Totally Innocent Group Draw

Zurzoth, Chaos Rider is unique because it's one of the few decks where I recommend running Temple Bell and Otherworld Atlas. The downside of drawing more cards for your opponents than they do for you is offset by the amount of extra tokens you'll generate off Zurzoth in the process. The same goes for Mikokoro, Center of the Sea and Geier Reach Sanitarium, two all-star land options in our deck. Wheels like Magus of the Wheel -- which I typically do recommend in Mono Red decks -- are especially good here because they also happen to create extra tokens with Zurzoth as well.

So yes, while these card draw spells are also helping your opponents, you're quickly amassing a soon-to-be lethal army of Devils to finish off your opponents before they can get full value out of the cards you gave them.

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Maximum Mayhem

Once we've got a bunch of explosive 1/1 tokens on the battlefield the real fun can begin! We'll maximize the value of our tokens a few different ways:

Here are some of my favorite ways to maximize our Devil tokens:

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The Rest: More Generic Stuffs

So the goal is our deck is to:

  1. Make lots of Devils
  2. Maximize the value of our Devils.
  3. Burn our opponents to death.

We've covered the key cards to do that. Now I'll go over the rest of the deck, which is more generic Mono Red goodstuff to fill out the deck.

Manabase: Lands & Ramp

Castle Embereth is a great way to get some extra damage through later on in the game. And since our deck has lots of uses for small tokens, Dwarven Mine is an excellent "free" source of a bonus 1/1.

For ramp, lower cmc is better: our deck will be running lots of ways to refill our hand, most notably wheels (e.g. Magus of the Wheel), so we want cheap ramp that can quickly empty our hands and refill. Beyond the usual suspects of cards like Wayfarer's Bauble and Mind Stone there's cards like Springleaf Drum and (my favorite) Curse of Opulence which let our tokens generate mana for us.

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Card Draw

Since we're creating so many 1/1's, obviously Skullclamp is one of the best sources of card draw in the deck. Idol of Oblivion is another neat way to draw cards from all the tokens we're creating. And of course there's plenty of impulse draw options as well such as Tectonic Giant.

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We've got some decent creature removal options like Blasphemous Act, lots of great artifact removal like Vandalblast, and graveyard hate with Soul-Guide Lantern. Enchantments are trickier to handle, but we do have Chaos Warp and Ugin, the Ineffable for spot removal or can go for a full board reset with Oblivion Stone.

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Deckbuilding Checklist

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the deck. As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain amount of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. This is my general checklist of minimum requirements:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

The remaining deck slots are filled with whatever cards fit the deck's theme and add to the overall synergy. That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Now that we've covered the deck's goal, the cards we're going to building with, and have a check list of cards that we'll need, let's build the sample decks!

$50* List

The first start at $50 excluding the commander. Our goal is to ramp fast, draw tons of cards, summon a big party of Devils, and then pump the damage output of our army to burn away our opponents. I splurged on two of the best cards in the deck: our best card draw, Skullclamp, and our best sacrifice outlet, Ashnod's Altar.

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$100* List

Doubling our budget lets us make tons of upgrades throughout the deck. Our ramp gets faster and more explosive by trading out our fragile mana dorks for staples like Sol Ring and Curse of Opulence. Our removal gets a big boost in power with Ruination, Ugin, the Ineffable, and Silverclad Ferocidons. We get another top-tier sac outlet with Goblin Bombardment and the best damage booster, Fiery Emancipation. We also can now afford one of the best finishers in the deck, Insurrection, which usually ends up killing at least one opponent when its cast, and any remaining creatures can be sacrificed instead of giving them back.

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$200* List

Doubling our budget yet again lets us pick huge damage boosters like Fiendish Duo and Purphoros, God of the Forge, better tutors like Gamble, and better ramp like Ruby Medallion.

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That's All, Folks!

What I initially thought was just a jank Devil Tribal deck ended up being so much more. Zurzoth, Chaos Rider is a sneaky powerhouse of a commander that will quickly take over games if left unchecked. I hope you enjoyed my take on it! Thanks for reading!

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