One of the most feared archetypes in Multiplayer Commander is Ad Nauseum. And when it comes to Ad Nauseum in Commander, many of the builds are focused on having the total converted mana cost of their deck low enough so that they can just put their deck into their hand and lose less than 40 life. There are no extra pieces to ensure survival when these decks cast Ad Nauseum, just careful deck building. The less common, but perhaps more powerful, strategy is to use some of the few cards that let you live with less than 0 life and ignore the consequences of Ad Nauseum.
This deck is built around resolving Ad Nauseum after having cast Angel’s Grace or with Phyrexian Unlife on the battlefield. Those two effects let you stay alive even if you go into negative life. That can allow your mana costs to be much larger than 40 while using the Ad Nauseum combo. The added benefit to this strategy is that you don’t have to worry about losing too much life before you start to combo which is a problem as people naturally want to attack the suspected combo decks.
Ad Nauseum as a strategy can fit into a lot of different styles of deck. As I detailed earlier, the combo is quite compact only needing to resolve two spells to reach critical mass, the point at which the opposition can no longer prevent the deck from winning. The rest of the deck gets to fill in for redundancy and support as needed. Using Zur as the commander allows you to have access to a powerful tutor for a key combo piece (Phyrexian Unlife) or some of the powerful tools that are common to Zur such as Necropotence and Solitary Confinement. Additionally, Blue and White are the next best colors compared to Black when it comes to searching up Instants, Artifacts, and Enchantments. Blue also allows the use of counterspells to protect the combos and prevent your opponents from winning too quickly. The only real downside to using Zur as your commander is that people dislike Zur on principle. However, once you start trying to be competitive that is less of a concern.
The other Esper general that people like using for Ad Nauseum is Oloro, Ageless Ascetic for the life gain. While getting an extra 8+ life every game can be useful, this build of the deck only cares that it doesn’t lose the game and doesn’t need the cushion of extra life. Oloro is best left to the builds that don’t rely upon Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife effects. By choosing Zur we get to enjoy that extra tutoring and have a much more impactful general.
Ad Nauseum Zur with Zur the Enchanter
Whereas a deck such as Nin, the Pain Artist is set up to prolong the game for a while before achieving victory, Zur Ad Nauseum wants to win fairly quickly. The prime window for Zur’s attempt for victory is typically between turns 3 and 5 depending on the disruptions faced and acceleration drawn. One of the biggest advantages of this deck, and reasons for its fast clock, is the tutor power to create a lot of redundancy. We use this to focus on a few of the key interactions and get them up and running quickly.
The deck is built to abuse this interaction. It’s possible to lose up to a 132 life with Ad Nauseum in this deck. You will usually end up at less than -60 life if you use Ad Nauseum to access your entire library. That would be an issue but Phyrexian Unlife and Angel’s Grace allow you to ignore the rule of losing the game when you have 0 or less life. They give you an opportunity to use all those extra cards to set up victory.
Necropotence is one of the most powerful cards in the history of Magic. Turning life into cards, even with the red tape of Necropotence, is a great way to overwhelm multiple opponents who are gunning after you. The weaknesses of Necropotence are the skipped draw step and the cumulative life loss. This leads to many people to start attacking the Necropotence player’s life total as soon as they realize that every life taken is one fewer card that player has access to. Enter Solitary Confinement. Solitary Confinement is sort of the reverse of Necropotence. In trading your draw step and a card each turn for Shroud and preventing all damage to you, Solitary Confinement gives life for knowledge just as Necropotence trades knowledge for life. Necropotence provides an easy way to continue feeding Solitary Confinement while also digging for avenues to victory and Solitary Confinement gives you a larger chunk of your life to work with as you don’t have to worry about damage.
Winning the Game
While drawing your entire deck is powerful, resolving Ad Nauseum just gives you all the tools to victory. If you were to strip away the Ad Nauseum and Zur parts of this deck then what remains is a Monolith combo deck. Much like my Nin, the Pain artist list, this deck often wins using Basalt Monolith (or Grim Monolith) combined with Power Artifact to generate infinite colorless mana. It has a few schemes to convert that mana into colorless mana such as Gilded Lotus + Capsize or Voltaic Key + Rings of Brighthearth. For further information on those interactions please see the previous article. Once infinite mana is achieved and your deck drawn then it comes time to win. I find Blue Sun’s Zenith and Stroke of Geniusto be amongst the best win conditions for this scenario. However, the Monolith Package isn’t the only way to effectively end games in this deck.
The Extra Mana
These key mana artifacts play a vital role in this deck aside from the normal acceleration one. Once you draw the entirety of your deck then you have a small window of time to win in. That leaves you relying on the extra mana these cards bring to cast your game winning combos. Whichever of these cards you haven’t drawn and used up already should normally be enough. The problem is that sometimes will leave you without enough colorless to start playing the Monoliths while leaving up the blue mana for Power Artifact. This is no big deal as Gilded Lotus and/or Voltaic Key will usually save the day. If you had to use up both your Voltaic Key and Gilded Lotus to enable Power Artifact for infinite colorless mana, then the Signets can help set up Capsize on the Gilded Lotus.
The Combo Normally Known as Helm/Leyline or Helm/RIP
Graveyards have become an increasingly important part of Commander over the last few years. It’s important to have ways to answer your opponents using their graveyard so we have a few. However, we also get to use a rules quirk on a very old card to turn these hate cards into part of a winning combination. Helm of Obedience will keep putting cards into target opponent’s library until it puts X cards or a creature card into their graveyard. The issue here is that Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace create a replacement effect that has cards go to the exile rather than the graveyard. The Helm will just keep sending cards to the graveyard as neither the X cards nor the creature card has been put into the graveyard as the cards keep going to the exile. The Helm only stops when the opponent has no more cards in their library. The Helm even stays in play, ready to target another opponent as soon as it untaps. The combo also takes relatively little mana as the X on the Helm’s ability only has to be 1. For the small price of 3 cards, 2 of which are useful on their own, it’s an easy inclusion to have another way to eliminate opponents.
What’s not in the Deck
I’m sure that many Commander players, especially veteran users of Zur the Enchanter, may think some cards are missing. I can’t blame them as I intentionally omitted some popular strategies in order to boost the overall power level of this deck. Some of the more typical Zur lists will have a large variety of enchantments for Zur to fetch with every attack and many of those are Auras.
What is often referred to “Voltron” strategies is the act of building upon your Commander so as to empower them to eliminate your opponents via the 21 Commander Damage Rule. A Voltron commander deck typically devotes a large amount of their deck to boosting up their Commander and Zur is a popular choice for this strategy. As Zur can fetch up the auras instead of having you need to draw and cast them, it can get out of hand very quick. Common Voltron Zur cards such as Steel of the Godhead, Diplomatic Immunity, and Vanishing are all good cards for that strategy. The problem is that those cards are usually too slow to impact a high powered game. If you get to attack with Zur early then you probably have a lot of life and want to grab Necropotence. If you don’t get to attack with Zur until later on then you probably want to go for a last ditch combo or start fortifying yourself with Solitary Confinement. In many of the games you won’t have enough time to set up a fully loaded Voltron Zur which is why we avoided that strategy.
The other big set of omissions from this deck among the popular options for Zur would be board control enchantments. The attack taxing effects of Ghostly Prison and Proganda are quite popular. As are spot removal options like Oblivion Ring and Banishing Light. By choosing to not run these cards, we have more room for other options. The logic behind this decision is that we trust that Solitary Confinement is going to be enough to save our bacon most of the time or that the other enchantments would have fared no better.
So what can Zur fetch up?
While our options for Zur are few they are strong. We have Necropotence, Solitary Confinement, Phyrexian Unlife, Rest in Peace, Power Artifact, Aura of Silence, and Detention Sphere. Each enchantment serves an important role, whether as a combo piece or as a more reactive element.
Detention Sphere was chosen to be the utility answer as it also happens to pitch for Force of Will and Misdirection. Aura of Silence is great tax effect but usually just hits a combo piece and gives us another way to remove trouble permanents.
Occasionally Zur will surprise you and let you just fetch up Power Artifact right onto one of your Monoliths. Some people don’t even see this coming and by the time they are ready to react, you have infinite colorless mana to work with. Using Zur gets to Rest in Peace can also lead to victories due to the combo with Helm of Obedience, but more often you just cripple one or two opponents that are overly dependent upon the graveyard.
Handling the Opposition
Just as important as building your deck to accomplish what you want is being able to disrupt the plans of your opponents. That usually takes the form of removal spells like Swords to Plowshares or Wrath of God. It’s not uncommon for decks to have numerous spells to disrupt the opposing strategies, especially in competitive play where you need to be ready to disrupt someone much earlier in the game compared to casual play. This deck cut the majority of those slots to make room for more combo pieces and more situational counters. Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile made room for Daze and Dispel. When facing competitive decks, counters are usually more effective than spot removal as fewer creature decks turn up. Spells like Wrath of God and Evacuation made room for Helm of Obedience and Leyline of the Void.
Oftentimes the best way to defend yourself against spells and permanents that worry you isn’t to address them head on, but to kill the player who controls them. This logic permeates this deck as seen with how dedicated it is to setting up the various combos. The other noticeable trait is the conscious dedication to having an extremely low average mana cost. Why play Negate when Dispel or Swan Song is available? Why play Hinder or Spell Crumple when you don’t plan on your opponent having much time to cast their general repeatedly. Maximizing the short game is one of the weaknesses of this deck, but it makes it able to protect its combo and defend against opposing combo better than most other decks. Want to beat this deck? Drag out the game, drain the resources, and keep Necropotence from taking over.
Playing Against Blue Control Decks
Many of the best decks in this format run counters and this deck is well equipped to combat them. The suite of cheap and free counters is quite strong and stretches into the lesser used options such as Swan Song, Dispel, and Daze. These will only do so much to help protect victory which is why we have Boseiju, Who Shelter’s All. When you really need a spell to resolve it’s hard to do better than Boseiju. So if you think counters are going to be a problem then I would recommend tutoring up Boseiju early on. Within a few turns you should be able to power Ad Nauseum through Boseiju, with Angel’s Grace protected already itself, to enable a clean victory. If the Boseiju plan gets derailed, then ramp up as much mana as possible while using Zur to bait out their responses. If Zur actually succeeds in getting things into play, then you probably win through that strategy to set up a combo the “hard way”. And if Zur fails then hopefully you will have enough mana to attempt to combo out with ample protection.
Playing Against Aggro Decks
By cutting the spot removal this deck can have a tougher time against aggressive decks such as Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Our plan is to take as much hits as we can while setting up our own combo. These decks are more prone to tap out and have fewer responses to our combos. Meanwhile we can use our cheap permission spells to keep anything too crazy from resolving until we are ready to go for a combo. Furthermore, many of the Green based decks have problems with removing creatures so Zur may actually be more relevant here by searching up Necropotence and Solitary Confinement (not in that order).
Playing Against the Big Value Decks
A Big Vaue deck is sort of mess of various powerful effects and creatures that occasionally have combos. Think decks like Maelstrom Wanderer, Ghave, Guru of Spores, and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. These decks can pile on the Commander damage relatively efficiently while dumping a lot of other problems onto the table. The entire deck is usually designed to take advantage of its Commander but not in a Voltron capacity. These decks can be trouble to face as there are usually filled with redundant effects and have a secret advantage over a deck like Zur.
The secret advantage is that, as of now, people still fear Zur and will thus go out of their way to expend removal and other resources at combating your game plan instead of your opponents. This can leave your Maelstrom Wanderer or Prossh opponent with a green light to start dropping the big bombs. The problem here is that in a war on multiple fronts, these big decks can just overwhelm the intentionally light defenses of this deck. Compounding that is the fact that in this scenario our opponents have been expending their removal on our threats which can lead the whole table trying to handle these quite impactful Commanders with few resources in the later stages of the game. However, we have an answer for that in our very core design: speed. If the slower, bigger decks are able to get exponentially stronger over the course of the game then we will get a huge jump in the race and just be much faster. A table full of Maelstrom Wanderers, Prosshs, and the like usually can’t do anything to a turn 3 or 4 Ad Nauseum kill but grumble. Just keep this in mind and try to combo quickly. If the amount of disruption early is too much, then just settle in for a slow game and try to act weaker than you are in an attempt to avoid too many hurtful effects. Eventually there will be a window when a few opponents will simultaneously let their guard down and you can go for a game winning combo.
Playing Against Fast Combo
The Hermit Druid matchup is where we miss Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile the most. If you are expecting a metagame filled with Hermit Druid and light of Blue decks, I would see cutting a few cards for them. The threat of a quick and protected Hermit Druid can cause us to be in a reactionary position for most of the game with a deck full of more proactive answers. That said, we can still focus on the weak points of Hermit Druid and achieve dominance through both our graveyard hate (Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace) and ability to counter Dread Return, the choke point of most Hermit Druid decks. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t easy, but this build of Zur has a decent Hermit Druid match.
The other fast combo in the format is Ad Nauseum. A lot of the builds our there are more focused on speed and less on redundancy compared to this build. The secret is remembering that you are the control deck against them. If you take a slower and more measured pace than your opposition, they will have trouble handling all the counter magic. It’s also crucial to understand that this opponent often don’t have access to much, if any, disruption so as soon as you can combo you just win.
Ad Nauseum based Zur is a very powerful strategy and be difficult to stop. I think this build of Zur is close to being the most powerful one for competitive play. It also shows very powerful Ad Nauseum is in the Commander format. If you are looking for a pure combo fix, then I find it hard to resist Ad Nauseum.
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