The Chopping Block — Zurgo, Helmsmasher

Welcome back to The Chopping Block! The place where we take an average deck and chop it into more refined pieces. With this information, you will be able to create a deck that feels like your own and is competitive to boot. This week we’ll be looking at a series decks for the more aggressive Commander players among us.


Zurgo SMASH!

Zurgo Helmsmasher

There could not be a more aggressive commander than Zurgo Helmsmasher. His sole intent is to smash as many faces as possible, with total disregard for anything else. However, this brings up a slight issue when building a Zurgo deck. Many decks I’ve played against, or seen online, are extremely similar to each other. They contain many of the same themes and staples. While Zurgo is all about attacking, that doesn’t mean that a Whispersilk Clock is needed in every deck. This week I crafted three builds for Zurgo. We’ll look at his ability to survive your own wraths, carry efficient equipment, and show off his more delicate combo role. The decklist below is the average list taken straight from EDHREC. This list is developed from taking the averages of each card used in the 970 decks Zurgo decks quarried with EDHREC.

Average Intelligence

Average Zurgo Deck

Commander (1)
Creatures (18)
Planeswalkers (1)
Instants (10)
Sorceries (11)
Artifacts (15)
Enchantments (6)
Lands (38)


Average Analysis

This list contains a fair amount of two themes, equipment and removal. If you were to build this particular list, it would have a fair chance at winning in your group. However, the two themes the list pushes do not work well together. The equipment portion requires a creature-centric design, while removal focuses on clearing the board often. Both of these themes still use Zurgo for getting in with 21 commander damage for the win. This version is missing the required versatility to deal with multiple opponents. There is also a distinct lack of protection for the general as well. Many people see the indestructible text on Zurgo and forget that it only applies on your turn. So each deck today tries to provide some answers for that issue as well. Our first deck is fun to play if you enjoy destroying the world over and over again!


Operation DEVASTATION


We have one idea in mind for this deck, destroy everything and keep swinging! We’re running 15 board wipes in this build along with several targeted removal cards. This is the one portion of the deck that can be increased to fit your playgroup. On Zurgo’s EDHREC page there are 21 separate cards to wipe the board clean. When building this version there is an enormous selection of wraths in our color pool. The wraths that make the cut need to be able to fit into one of the several likely scenarios. Remember that not all wraths are equal. Choosing cards that ensure Zurgo survives is the first priority, as he is the only win condition. This basically cuts out cards like Merciless Eviction, Descend Upon the Sinful, and Final Judgment. Next, we want to add cards that will also limit the opponents chance to retaliate. This is done through effects that destroy lands and other resources.

  • Razia’s Purification — Often all opponents will choose three lands, thus leaving your Zurgo free to hit while forcing your opponents to rebuild
  • Devastation — If this resolves at least one player dies before the board stabilizes again
  • Cataclysm — One cataclysm effect will likely force your opponents into an unwinnable board
  • Austere Command — The choice to clear the way and take a few non-land permanents is huge

Finally, wraths that produce card advantage are auto-includes. This means Decree of Pain and Overwhelming Forces. Some notable exclusions include: Planar Cleansing, Necromantic SelectionMageta The Lion. Planar Cleansing and Necromantic Selection have extremely color-heavy cost and may be difficult to cast. Mageta would be great for this deck if there was more card draw included to support continuous discard. Since we will almost always have one creature it seemed like the perfect chance to include two enchantments with a huge limit and nice payoff, Deadly Wanderings and Homicidal Seclusion. These are narrow enough that players won’t want to waste removal on them. The help of just one of these allows Zurgo to gain us about nine or ten life a turn. This deck will create hate due to the number of wraths it will play, so life gain is a welcome addition. We’ve got several other life gain enablers, some even come from our average list.

  • Loxodon Warhammer – Trample and lifelink make it this an auto-include
  • True Conviction While mana intensive, it moves our clock from three turns to two and doesn’t require further investment
  • Righteous Fury – What’s not to love, it’s a wrath and life gain

The Abyss and Magus of the Abyss are a fun pair with Zurgo. F0r each one, each other player has to kill off a creature on every one of their turns. The original Abyss is priced on the high end, however, the Magus is less than a dollar. This deck brings the most interaction out of the three in this article. The best meta for this deck would be one where creatures are at the forefront of most decks. After awhile your playgroup may start making more conservative decks if you continue to play this one. Luckily I’ve still got two more great decks to show you in that case. The next one focuses on the most popular theme for Zurgo decks.


Zurgo, Fully Loaded

Equipment

Commander (1)
Creatures (13)
Instants (13)
Sorceries (8)
Artifacts (22)
Enchantments (5)
Lands (38)

Equipment

Around 30% of all decks recorded with EDHREC seem to contain an equipment package. The theme fits Zurgo better than most other commanders. Being entirely focused on combat means equipment makes him hit harder and connect with the opponent more often. Our average list contains most of the equipment matters creatures.

We want to drop equipment and attack each turn. To help facilitate this, the list of equipment was aimed at efficient mana cost, low equip cost, evasion, and decent power boost. Most of the equipment included is three or less to cast or equip. While only Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Feast and Famine are included, any of the other Swords are worthwhile. The two included give the greatest gain with our current setup; however, If you need the color protection from the other swords, add them in! Worldslayer, with Zurgo, usually gives us the game, since we can destroy the field every turn and Zurgo lives through it. Adding in Sigarda’s Aid lets us pull this off, in one turn, for five mana instead of ten.

Almost half of Zurgo decks, recorded through EDHREC, contain Sunforger. It is an absolute powerhouse in this list. It does require some deck building to make it work, though. I’ve included removal, tutors, and protection for it to search and cast. Always having a Boros Charm or Utter End lets you control the board with ease. The key to a Sunforger package is multicolored cards. Many of them have larger effects due to their color restriction, but Sunforger lets you cast things like Crackling Doom easier and cheaper. Let’s not forget the +4/+0 that Zurgo gets while equipped. This makes him a two-turn clock on each player.

One of the best reasons to play this version is that we have other creatures that we can use to win. Even a Sram, Senior Edificer becomes a threat in this deck. However, since the deck contains lots of equipment, it only made sense to add in creatures that were great with equipment. We got some smaller creatures with double strike that pack a wallop when equipped with swords. Then on the high end, our angels bring home the game, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Aurelia, the Warleader. Both of their effects synergize well with our equipment. There are several equipment-matters creatures that were not included. This wasn’t because they are lacking, but rather because I still wanted to aim the deck around Zurgo. If you want to add more equipment based creatures I would look into Loxodon Punisher, Leonin Shikari, and Auriok Windwalker. If attacking isn’t your forte there is still one more deck that is sure to devastate your play group.


Combo SMASH!

Combo Breaker!

Nice Combo You Had There…

This last deck sees Zurgo as the champion of Mardu combos. There are a plethora of included combos with pieces that readily interact with other cards in the deck. This presents a constant threat of forming a combo throughout the game using what your opponents assume to be dead combo pieces. The main goal is to resolve a Mana Echoes and create a team of tokens. This nets enormous amounts of mana for use on one of the many win conditions. Among the token producers, there are three that are based on the power of a creature. Each of these generates at least 49 mana when paired with Zurgo and Mana Echoes alone.

  • Murder Investigation – The cheapest piece at two mana. Zurgo does need to hit the graveyard though
  • Carrion – At instant speed, it can be used to create the tokens if we have other plans
  • Elemental Mastery – Repeatable use token creation

Once we have tons mana we’ll need a way to win. There is the classic fireball type spell, Comet Storm. It benefits from being instant speed; this is important for when Murder Investigation has to be fired off before Zurgo can be sacrificed to one of your own effects. The other two, Maga, Traitor to Mortals and Exsanguinate, are sorcery speed. Maga only gets one player but also leaves a huge body. To make sure everything gets assembled there are several required tutors. Luckily, one piece of the combo is our commander and doesn’t need a tutor. That still leaves three more pieces to locate. With eight tutors it won’t take too long to assemble our combo. In the meantime, there are several other cards that form combos as well.

Volcano Hellion, paired with any source of lifelink, gains infinite life. Damage with lifelink happens simultaneously with the life gain. The damage you would take is gained back immediately and you gain the damage it dealt to the creature. Stonehewer Giant can search and attach an equipment with lifelink in response to the trigger on Volcano Hellion. The best part is that the amount of damage is not chosen until after the ability resolves. This allows it be used free of worry from removal for the lifelink source. The Basilisk Collar is also there for our friendly Goblin Sharpshooter. The sharpshooter can tap and kill any creature, when equipped with the collar, and then untap. This should allow you to wipe out your opponents’ creatures. Remember not to target their commanders! They do not die, as they go to the command zone, and the goblin doesn’t untap. Avatar of Woe and Thornbite Staff also produce the same effect. Ashnod’s Altar is a way to trigger the untap on Thornbite or Sharpshooter. However, this also lets us pair this with Elemental Mastery, or Krenko, Mob Boss, for another infinite combo! Tap the creature to produce tokens, then sacrifice one of the tokens to untap the creature. Umbral Mantle can take the place of Thornbite for this combo as well.

When all else fails, and your opponents have defeated every combo you threw at them, it’s best to remember this is still a Mardu token deck. Shared Animosity and Coat of Arms make our seven 1/1s into seven 7/7s . Sword of the Paruns will also give the tokens another +2/+0. It can also be used to untap Zurgo and create another batch of tokens for just three mana, and this also infinite if Mana Echoes is out. This deck will leave any play group dumbfounded for mistaking Zurgo for another voltron only commander.


Super Secret Tech

While it didn’t make it into two of the decks this time, Onward // Victory is an amazingly powerful card when paired with Zurgo. For just six total mana Zurgo becomes a one shot kill. The best part is that sometimes you don’t even need to use both parts in one turn. Only one side of Onward to Victory would have to be cast if someone has been hit once. This allows it to be used next turn, or combat, to kill another opponent. The target for onward doesn’t have to be yours, either. This allows some sneak finishes when one opponent is attacking another. It seems to be catching on since it was released, with 10 out the 50 decks it is being played in belonging to Zurgo. I won’t be surprised if this card doesn’t remain a secret for much longer.


Parting Shots…err Thoughts

Zurgo’s card design drives you painstakingly towards voltron, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an unimaginative deck-building process. The decks in this article explore some of the popular aspects of Zurgo. There are still many that can be built around. The strengths of each build should be weighed against your meta within your playgroups. The equipment deck certainly has a casual power level, but can be surprisingly nimble in taking out opponents. The tribal wrath deck comes with an answer for anything and the slow eventuality of success. The combo list flies out of left field and is sure to turn a few heads, while also ensuring you’re the first target next game. Stay tuned for the next commander to be dissected and stitched back together. If you would like for me take a swing at one of your favorite commanders please leave a comment. I hope you enjoyed chopping up Zurgo as much as I did!

Josh Coleman is project manager within the legalized gaming industry. He spends the majority of his free time brewing and playing commander. He also loves eating Chicago style pizza while playing a dual wield Rogue (there is no other type). You can catch him on Magic Online under the name Amumu or at Jcoleman@thesolring.com.