The Great Heart of Azorius

My most Azorius deck is red. Sure, it’s primarily W/U. But it is red, and that extra color can turn Azorius from drab to fab with nothing but mustard. I’m speaking of the red brought by Zedruu the Greathearted, everybody’s favorite Minotaur (and possibly everybody’s favorite Monk. Presumably, she solves crimes by washing her hands a lot.)

The first published Zedruu builds fell into only two camps of things to give away: group hug (you’ll love having this!) and oppressive combo (you’ll hate having this!). I built the middle ground (you won’t mind having this!), a defensive deck that donates Auras and global enchantments for enough cards to raise a flying army. (Raise . . . flying . . . bahahah! Or don’t laugh. That too is an option.) It’s relatively straightforward while being more fun to me than the typical Zedruu build, so here it is, highlighting this week’s changes that make Return to Ravnica block the most represented apart from the Commander product. Queuing up my Azorius playlist1 since I already listed my R/W/U one here in a footnote.

Discussing the sections in the listed order (how else would Azorius do it? Get with the program):

Mana

Rainbow Vale
It takes 7 mana before you generate any value from Zedruu—casting and activating—and that’s only for one card a turn. Ideally, you have something ready to swap before casting Zedruu; that takes a lot of cheap permanents. The desires for extra mana and donating permanents intertwine at having a lot of lands, so going high on the mana count is better here than it looks. The Guildgates finally brought my mana base to the point at which I feel comfortable on color-fixing for Zedruu to arrive on-curve; it isn’t a good wedge for fixing, so the extra options are valuable. Rainbow Vale is a normal Zedruu inclusion as a natural giveaway; Celestial Colonnade and Azorius Keyrune both turn into flyers; and Reliquary Tower lets Zedruu run to excess.

Donate Pile

Captivating Glance
Leave it to a Rock player to relegate Zedruu to incremental advantage, but that’s her purpose in this deck. Unless I’m digging hard for answers, I rarely donate more than two permanents at a time; there just isn’t a need to go crazy with her. To that end, I don’t have many permanents I want to send away. Most of them are enchantments that don’t care about their controllers. Journey to Nowhere, Faith's Fetters, Unquestioned Authority, and Curse of Exhaustion do their thing regardless, so I might as well turn them into extra cards.

Captivating Glance is different depending on who controls it, and the available politics are strange. Normally, you put Captivating Glance on Opponent A’s creature, clash with Opponent B to make sure it’s either you or B keeping the creature, then give the Glance to anyone who’s willing to clash with you every time. If you need to take the creature off A’s board before your end step, give the Glance to an opponent whose end step will happen first.

Vedalken Plotter is my favorite inclusion from the preconstruct; it curves naturally into Zedruu, gives away a land, and is easy to give away (although it’s often a chump-blocker, so it doesn’t stick around long). Sunglasses of Urza, and especially Endless Horizons, fix your mana for a while and then become fine donations. Meddling Mage and Nevermore (and to a lesser extent Voidstone Gargoyle) always have commanders you can name, and if there aren’t any you find pernicious, you can name Sol Ring. I mean, I would.

Dovescape and Gravitational Shift are the Venn overlap of my major themes. Gravitational Shift pumps all flyers and reduces all ground creatures equally; I’m likely to have flyers already on the board to take advantage, and they’re encouraged to attack by my being less vulnerable to a ground-based counterstrike. With Gravitational Shift, Dovescape (also a global enchantment) makes 3/1 flyers for everybody; as long as I produce more of them—and I’m usually fine converting anything in my hand to the avian toothpaste shown in the art—I’ll have enough to swing somewhere.

This deck has no way to turn off Dovescape, but opponents don’t have to know that. While they’re calculating the odds of their bomb sorceries being better as Birds now or possibly the spell later, I’m fine with turning my X burn spells into X Bird spells. Board sweep makes Birds; casting Aura Shards makes Birds; every mode of Austere Command makes Birds. And I’m set up to use those Birds. It’s a load of fun.

Vows and Taxes

Sphere of Safety
The preconstruct had a Propaganda subtheme, so I decided to expand it. Zedruu’s upkeep trigger favors me in the long game, so I ought to aim for it. This might be the optimal use of Sphere of Safety in Commander (in sixty-card formats, please run it with Enchanted Evening), making it even harder to attack thanks to my enchantments that make it hard to attack. The Vows are reasonable enough defensive measures—Vow of Flight’s especially interesting if Gravitational Shift is out—but I generate extra value from occasionally giving a Vow to somebody else. If it’s on my creature and it wasn’t going to swing at a specific opponent, I might as well give it away for life and cards.

Flying Army

Gravitational Shift
Gravitational Shift wants me to have the most flyers on the board. Fortunately, my colors give me quantity and quality. It’s not so much about Wall of Denial and Plumeveil, fine as they are; it’s about jamming 5-power flyers into faces. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight is the easy highlight for being ridiculous solo, but there are enough other cards that synergize to make her doubly ridiculous. Drogskol Reaver turns Zedruu’s incidental life-gain into more cards. Call the Skybreaker makes big flyers without Dovescape and seven small flyers with Dovescape, making it the One Dozen Eyes of U/R.

Admittedly, several of my other flyers were selected haphazardly; there’s no specific plan for them apart from being large and airborne. I have little to put on Bruna, Light of Alabaster, but I’m hoping somebody else does, and it was still an upgrade over the Serra Angel in that slot. Voidstone Gargoyle adds to the Meddling Mage/Nevermore plan while occasionally dealing damage. And if you haven’t tried Shattered Angel in Commander, give it a chance, as it’s just small enough to avoid targeting but gains far more life than it ought.

Instant Gratification

Firemind's Foresight
This is a new subtheme introduced by Return to Ravnica. Firemind's Foresight reads a little underpowered at first, but when you look through all the options, you find spot removal and X spells, and who doesn’t want those? Comet Storm, Fight to the Death, and Oblation were already in the deck, so I added Street Spasm, Blustersquall, and Sphinx's Revelation to make a mini-toolbox at each cost. I’ve had good mileage out of Gigadrowse in mono-blue, and Blustersquall ought to hit a similar power level. Instant tutor access to Oblation and Fight to the Death can be a combat blowout; showing that you’re searching for both of them on an end step should be a rattlesnake as well. Otherwise, I’m going for spells you intend to cast on the next turn. I don’t want to expand the toolbox much more, but what’s there gives the deck an unusual edge.

The Rest

Mercurial Chemister
A few of these—False Prophet, Ruhan of the Fomori, Austere Command, Trade Secrets, and Reins of Power—are left over from the preconstruct. Reins of Power is especially fun with Zedruu since you can respond to the trigger by exchanging all your creatures temporarily, turning Reins of Power into a cheaper Collective Unconscious. Trade Secrets, Azure Mage, and Mercurial Chemister are backup card-draw in case Zedruu isn’t working out, and Chemister’s backup creature removal as well. Its damage side becomes silly with Gisela out, as with Chandra Nalaar (who’s easily protected in this deck), Red Sun's Zenith, and especially Inferno. In multiple games recently, I’ve cast Gisela and followed her up with Inferno, dealing 3 to me and my stuff but 12 to my opponents and their stuff. That’s worth {5}{R}{R}, yes?

Last but not least, Druidic Satchel offers me several important things: a chance at ramp this deck sorely wants; some Saprolings to give away, chump block with, or add a lovely green color to my board; and the opportunity to say, “What’s in the bag?” every time I activate it.

Lazer Sheep Dip Monk

Zedruu can support a basic Azorius defense-and-flyers plan by drawing enough cards and adding red for damage to speed things up, easing the pressure on your defenses. You don’t have to build Zedruu toward oppression or friendliness. There’s a middle ground, and it’s a fun ground.




1 I have hour-long playlists for every color combination from zero to three colors based on color pie philosophy and how those ideas are expressed in music. My Azorius playlist is:

  • “Tierra del Fuego” by Way Out West
  • “One Perfect Sunrise” by Orbital
  • “Mr. Tiddles” by Sasha
  • “Magnetic North” by Sasha
  • “Detention” by Gus Gus
  • “Giving Up the Ghost” by BT
  • “Rose of Jericho” by BT
  • “Andromeda” by Chicane
  • “Dream Universe (16B Still Waters Symphony Mix)” by C&M
  • “Wavy Gravy” by Sasha