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Commander Showdown — Zur vs Bruna
Commander Showdown is a series that compares and contrast two similar commanders, analyzes differences in strategy and deck construction, and evaluates how those differences are represented by the data here on EDHREC.
Modern Masters 2017 has been out for a few weeks now, and hopefully you’ve had the chance to draft the set a few times. If you’re anything like me, you have bad luck at opening Damnations or foil fetch lands. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still pull other cool cards from this set, and Modern Masters 2017 contains some neat legendary creatures. This week, I’d like to look at the most famous of them, Zur the Enchanter, and compare him against another flying enchantress, Bruna, Light of Alabaster.
The competitive types probably scoffed at this article’s title. Zur vs. Bruna? He must be joking. Sure, they’re both flying commanders that put enchantments into play, but Bruna is more casual, and Zur is competitive, right? Even folks who have never played a single game of EDH have still heard of Zur Commander decks. That’s just how famously powerful he is. In a format about legendary creatures, he’s legendary.
But the point of the Commander Showdown series isn’t about which commander is more powerful. It’s about comparing strategies and learning from their similarities and differences. And in that respect, there’s a lot that both of these commanders can learn from what the other is doing. Let’s take a look.
The Venn Diagram
I’m going to jump right to the Venn Diagram this time. For newer readers, I take the Top and Signature Cards from both commanders’ pages on EDHREC and look at which individual cards overlap.
Here are the results:
As always, this is a lot of information to throw at you, so let’s pick it apart.
We can start with something easy: Bruna’s column contains an enormous number of auras, especially expensive ones like Celestial Mantle and Eldrazi Conscription. Since she can put these into play for free, this makes a lot of sense, and seems very par for the course for a Voltron commander like her.
These auras aren’t the kind of spells we expect to see in a Zur list, and indeed, we don’t. The only auras he seems to have in common with Bruna are Ethereal Armor and Steel of the Godhead. Aside from that, their lists are entirely dissimilar, with very little overlap. Zur can fetch any kind of enchantment, not just auras, so he’ll often favor a powerful card like Necropotence over a Righteous Authority.
In fact, looking closely at Zur’s column, we can find something incredibly peculiar: his column contains four lands, the Ravnica shock lands and Esper’s Arcane Sanctum. These lands are played so frequently in Zur decks that they show up in his Signature cards section. Four lands in Signature Cards–that’s twice as many as Omnath, Locus of Rage, the most popular landfall commander. That’s how important the mana base is to a Zur deck. His Top Cards even include all three Signets, and in the Artifacts section of his EDHREC page, we find even more mana rocks, like Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Progress, Mana Crypt, and even Chrome Mox.
The presence of these lands and Signets really highlights Zur’s competitive nature. His game plan is spelled out quite clearly: get him out quickly, so fast that your opponents don’t have time to prepare removal against him.
And that’s actually all I’m going to say about the Venn Diagram this time around. I usually like to spend more time picking it apart, but for this particular Showdown, I don’t think the diagram is as instructive. Why?
Because I disagree with it.
What Bruna Learns from Zur
Bruna’s column looks exactly like you’d expect a Voltron commander’s column to look. Indestructibility, Umbra Mystic, Open the Armory and other tutors to find more auras, etc. Powerful stuff, but pretty typical Voltron material.
However, Bruna is anything but typical.
Zur is famous for cheating enchantments into play, and that is a trick I think Bruna decks can learn from him. As everyone knows, Bruna can put auras from your hand onto the battlefield attached to her for free, but she can also put them onto the battlefield from your graveyard.
So, Bruna players, meet your new best friends:
At first glance, Bruna, Light of Alabaster’s ability appears to merely be a safety clause; if she died once already and you lost a lot of auras, she can retrieve them the next time around. However, if we want her to be a powerhouse like Zur, we have to be willing to get our hands just as dirty.
The game plan? Traumatize yourself, milling half of your library into your graveyard, and then swing with Bruna. In one attack, you could easily get over a dozen enchantments into play for free. That’s bonkers!
We’re not done yet. Self-mill isn’t the only thing you should be using. Remember, Bruna also puts things into play from your hand for free. Which means she wants you to draw cards. Lots and lots of cards.
Draw ten cards off a Sphinx’s Revelation and she’ll do the rest for you. Loot away a dozen cards with Read the Runes, because she’ll bring them back. If you draw cards you desperately want to keep in your hand, you can even sacrifice auras you already have on the battlefield, because she’ll put them on the field again. Play a Fact or Fiction, because it really doesn’t matter whether those auras end up in your hand or your graveyard. Draw, loot, filter, and reap the benefits.
You should never, ever, ever pay a single mana for an aura in a Bruna deck. She puts them onto the battlefield for you, which means we have to re-tune our brains a little if we build around her. For example, the card Spirit Mantle sits comfortably on her page at 53%. This is an effective aura to make her both unblockable and an excellent blocker. There’s also Holy Mantle, which has the same effect and a slightly better power/toughness boost for more mana; however, it’s only at 39%. These numbers should be the other way around. Bruna doesn’t care about mana cost, so we need to train our brains to ignore them, and run auras purely based on the effects they provide, not the price to play them. A Bruna deck never wants to cast an aura.
So ignore those Kor Spiritdancers. Get rid of your Sram, Senior Edificers and your Sigarda’s Aids. Spend your mana on more mana rocks, so you can cast a huge Stroke of Genius. Spend your mana on Counterspell and Disallow when opponents try to remove your Bruna. The only auras I give you permission to hard-cast in a Bruna deck are Clever Impersonator and Copy Enchantment, because having three copies of Eldrazi Conscriptions seems pretty nutty.
Bruna may look simple at first, but she’s just not. She’s a new breed, a unique, unintuitive Voltron with a curveball of a strategy. Uril, the Miststalker and Rafiq of the Many have to pay mana for their auras, but not her. That, I think, is the most important lesson Bruna can learn from a Zur deck: basically, how to cheat.
What Zur Learns from Bruna
So what about our crazy enchanter friend? What does this hyper-competitive tutor-on-a-stick learn from the souped-up angel?
In a word: flexibility.
Let’s take a quick peek back at Zur’s columns in the Venn Diagram. We see a lot of cards that indicate a control shell: Counterspell, Aura of Silence, Propaganda, and Ghostly Prison. He can even fetch out Imprisoned in the Moon and Grasp of Fate for pesky permanents.
Then, in the “Both” column, we also have Steel of the Godhead and Ethereal Armor, not to mention Diplomatic Immunity, which all hint at a Voltron strategy as well. Pair that Necropotence with an Empyrial Armor and you’ve got yourself a rather dangerous flying man, protected by the wealth of counterspells you’ll find in his “Instants” section on his EDHREC page.
That’s not all! If we scour his EDHREC page even further, we see combo pieces littered all over it. Bitterblossom + Contamination puts every non-black opponent off their mana base, and Zur can tutor both of them straight into play. Helm of Obedience + Rest in Peace exiles an opponent’s entire library. We also see an Ad Nauseam on his page, for the players that combine it with Angel’s Grace and Sickening Dreams. There’s even a Laboratory Maniac, which no doubt competitive players combine with cards like Doomsday.
The point is: Zur is a toolbox. He fetches whatever you need when you need it. He can be Voltron. He can be stax control. He can be combo.
The best part? He can be all of these things at once.
If you want, you can take Zur in a very specific direction during deck construction. A player using Ad Nauseam, for example, might only include cards with a low mana curve, but you can also take Zur in a different direction after deck construction; during the game. He can adjust to whatever you see on the table. If your opponents are on slower strategies, you might be able to speed right into a combo. If another deck looks faster than yours, you can tutor out hate cards to stop them, like Rule of Law to stop a storm player. If an aggro player is about to run you down, get out your Ghostly Prison to keep them off your back. You could also fetch a Battle Mastery if you finally have an opening to take someone down with commander damage. All of these options can exist in the same deck.
That’s what I hope Zur players learn from Bruna. She is an entirely unconventional commander, breaking the norm of how we expect Voltrons to behave, and Zur can be just as flexible. He provides a wealth of customizable options, both before the game and during it. Heck, we even have another article here on EDHREC about building Zur as reanimator by searching up enchantments like Animate Dead and Necromancy. The world is your oyster with this commander, so don’t be afraid to break the mold.
Cards to Consider
To wrap up, I’d like to offer a few ideas for cards that aren’t very popular for these commanders, but I think could stand to see more play:
- Hall of the Bandit Lord. Haste is very important to Zur players, to tutor out an enchantment the first turn he hits the battlefield, so I’m surprised this land is only in 18% of Zur decks.
- Phyresis. Think of it as a second Battle Mastery.
- For you Zur Stax players out there, Desolation and Mana Vortex will obliterate your opponents’ resources. These don’t show up on Zur’s page at all, which I find very surprising. (Then again, since I don’t particularly enjoy stax strategies myself, maybe I shouldn’t call attention to these kinds of cards… whoops.)
- Web of Inertia. If you have Rest in Peace on the battlefield, you can’t be attacked. Energy Field combines the same way, and prevents all damage, not just combat, and all of these can be tutored out with Zur’s ability. Building your own Blazing Archon seems pretty powerful to me.
- Reito Lantern. Sure, this doesn’t synergize with Rest in Peace at all, but neither does Replenish, and 36% of Zur players are running that. Assuming your graveyard isn’t exiling itself, this might be a handy way to get back enchantments your opponents managed to destroy.
- I’ve already made my case for Traumatize and Tunnel Vision, but here’s another sweet one: Mirror-Mad Phantasm. And while I’m at it, why not try Jace, Memory Adept to mill yourself every turn? These all can put a lot of auras in your graveyard.
- Recurring Insight is one of my favorite draw spells, and it’s a nice budget option for those who can’t afford Consecrated Sphinx. Rush of Knowledge doesn’t sound half-bad either.
- Totem Armors. I’m frankly astonished that cards like Hyena Umbra and Felidar Umbra are so low in popularity for Bruna. If you don’t manage to find your Shielded by Faith or Indestructibility, Bruna will be very vulnerable. Totem Armors can serve as additional copies of those effects. And don’t be afraid to run the Totem Armors with high mana costs, like Mammoth Umbra. After all, you’re not going to pay any mana for them.
- Intuition is a pricey card, but if you can afford it, it’s effectively a second copy of Three Dreams, since you don’t care whether the auras you tutor up go to your hand or to the graveyard.
- Silent Arbiter effects are very important for Bruna. I’d also recommend Ghostly Prison and Propaganda. Bruna is a great blocker against individual creatures, but it’s a good idea to have protection against opponents with vast armies of tokens, too.
- Finally, as a bonus recommendation: Psychic Spiral. If you already got the auras out of your graveyard, the Spiral will shuffle that graveyard back into your library, whereupon you can mill yourself again to find a fresh new bunch of auras to claim with Bruna. (Or you can mill an opponent for 40. That works too, I suppose.)
An Enchanting Pair
Though many of us have preconceived notions about how certain commanders or deck archetypes should play out, the comparison between Zur and Bruna helps us challenge ideas that may appear to be set in stone. Both of these commanders contain an enigmatic and unconventional strategy, so it’s always worth it to dig a little deeper, even if you think you already have the answers figured out. Whether you’re a competitive or casual player, there’s always room to improve, to improvise, and of course, to bash face with a flying, double-striking, lifelinking, unblockable commander wearing Ethereal Armor.
Until next time!