Commander Deck Inspiration: Zurgo, Helmsmasher

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

I don’t like to follow along with the pack. I have never liked things that are popular, and it has always rubbed me the wrong way to have things I’ve liked, say Magic: the Gathering, become mainstream. Sure, I know that becoming mainstream and selling out…er…making it, is something bands, brands, and people do, but I don’t have to love it. I guess I honestly don’t mind it, as long as whoever or whatever “makes it” stays true itself. There’s not an original fan of anything that ever liked having their favorite whatever sell out, become different, or change for the sake of the masses or masses of profits. So, today I’d like to propose a few Commander deck ideas to keep you from selling out or into the latest great craze. Sure, having a Toxril or Runo deck might seem like what all the cool kids are doing (I’m sure I’ll try building each in my own time), but have you considered going for something that almost no else is using?

I did a little scouring of the “most popular commanders” over the last two years on EDHREC. What I found, outside original Legends, were a few very interesting, powerful, and fun commanders that basically no one is playing. So, I thought I’d go ahead and suggest a few of them, and I’ll even give a few concepts to get you started on your own rare and unique build.

Over Priced
Over Costed
Over Priced & Over Costed

I’d like to make a quick note on the original legends from Legends. Most lack in popularity for two reasons: they cost too much and they cost too much. They are either too much mana, or too much money, or both! So, people can’t justify playing them. Cards like Livonya Silone are both expensive and over costed. Meanwhile Jedit Ojanen is mostly just over costed. Meanwhile Bartel Runeaxe is pricey, but is actually a pretty neat and fairly well costed creature. Those three basically sum up the reasons why people aren’t running them or brewing them all that often.

Now, according to the stats I studied, I found that one of the least popular commanders to run for the past two years is none other than Zurgo, Helmsmasher. Just to be clear, this card has nearly 1200 decks registered to its name. That’s not good enough to crack the top 200. Now, that’s not nearly as deplorable as many of the others whose infamous numbers I will be sure to include in the future. That’s true for many of the commanders I’ll be mentioning in this deck inspiration series. However, I’m shocked that a 7/2 hasted (also indestructible during your turn) creature is played with so infrequently. Sure, you could play Edgar Markov or Ghen, Arcanum Weaver as your Mardu (red, white, black color combination) leader, but those are very focused decks—vampires and enchantments. Kaalia of the Vast, and Kaalia, Zenith Seeker are, likewise, focused tribal options. Honestly, most of the Mardu options either smack of tribal or high synergy decks.

Meanwhile, Queen Marchesa is probably the queen of Mardu. That card is the reason that people are eschewing Zurgo, Helmsmasher. Yet, I’m a little confused. Queen Marchesa is great for a beatdown and go-wide strategy. Combat matters in a Marchesa deck, and I guess that is what people are thinking when they look at Zurgo. They see a big beater. However, I don’t think we’re looking closely enough if all we are seeing is a combat matters commander.

Zurgo, Helmsmasher is only matched in power by Piru, the Volatile. While Piru comes in at a classic EDH cost of eight mana, Zurgo clocks in at a super cheap five. Really, the only other closely costed beat-down commander for these colors is Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt (also sorely under-played). While Snapdax is cool, it can’t kill players by connecting a mere three combats. Zurgo, Helmsmasher can connect with an opponent twice with a couple of equipment or pump spells and knock an opponent out of the game in short order.

So, what should you consider running in a Zurgo, Helmsmasher deck? How about running some of the most fun and interesting pump spells these colors have to offer? How about Emerge Unscathed, Feat of Resistance, Gods Willing? Oh, right, those aren’t pump spells at all! Those are the start of a suite of protection and evasion that you can use to save Zurgo when he lacks indestructible, conversely we can use these offensively to slip through potential blockers for a sweet helmsmashing victory! The pump spells you should be running include Fatal Frenzy, Fury Charm, Bloodlust, Lunar Frenzy, Temur Battlerage, Brute Strength and Rush of Adrenaline. Most of these either seriously pump Zurgo for an instant kill, or they take advantage of his indestructibility—like Bloodlust. These efficient pump spells also allow us to grant Zurgo trample. Speaking of trample, you might want to consider running Tenza, Godo’s Maul in order to make Zurgo into a 10/6 trampler.

Additionally, you could easily continue down this Voltron-esque route and toss in the best equipment to help Zurgo smash his way to victory. If you’re worried about others swinging back at you, then you could try leveraging some interesting protective enchantments like Smoke, Ghostly Prison, Island Sanctuary, Koskun Falls, Reverence, and Sphere of Safety (in case you really lean into this enchantment angle).

I don’t think I need to dictate which equipment you will want to run, but you should definitely consider that Zurgo needs trample and would love anything that increases his power over ten. A few gems for the colors include Sunforger, Shadowspear, Sword of Vengeance, and the aforementioned Tenza, Godo’s Maul. These equipment all help to make Zurgo into a fast and dangerous clock. Combining Zurgo with a few pump spells and one or two pieces of equipment gives you a creature that can swat an opponent dead in a single shot.

Don’t forget that you get to put a +1/+1 counter on Zurgo each time someone chump blocks. That’s a sweet little piece of incremental advantage. When you get down to building the deck, I suggest that you don’t skimp on mana or mana rocks. This deck needs acceleration not just to drop Zurgo early on, but in order to mitigate the cost of recasting him. Voltron decks need to protect their Commanders with swords and boots and cloaks. That doesn’t mean you won’t end up having to recast him more than once. The exciting part is that Zurgo, Helmsmasher has haste, so recasting him is always a rush—you get to send him into the fray without pause.

Also, you might want to consider running some truly nasty board wipes. You’re running the three best colors at wiping the board. Everything that destroys all creatures at sorcery speed is amazing in this deck. Zurgo laughs off all these board wipes and then crashes in unobstructed for massive damage. Casting spells like Damnation, Wrath of God, and Blasphemous Act is awesome. Being able to cast them, and then attack with a giant commander is highly satisfying. So, don’t fret about running a more controlling Voltron commander deck with Zurgo, Helmsmasher at the helm.

I’m running out of time, but I think you probably have more than enough cards and concepts to finish brewing up your very own smashingly good Zurgo Commander deck. Feel free to double down on cantrips that pump or equipment that lends evasion. The unique ability to run a controlling Voltron styled commander with board wipes that leave your monstrous commander unaffected is definitely enticing. This is a deck that you can opt to build on a budget or bust the piggy bank to trick it out. It’s really up to you. That was smashing good fun, and may you find that inspiration and the cards are ever in your favor!

4 thoughts on “Commander Deck Inspiration: Zurgo, Helmsmasher

  1. I am, while not new exactly, a very casual Magic player who doesn’t really know the meta or most of the terms folks use, and generally prefer to avoid metas in general. I’m looking at pairing Zurgo with some cards that look like they should synergize fairly well, but I would like a second opinion on them. They mostly include cards like Serra’s Guardian, Frillscare Mentor, Sonorous Howlbonder, and Hagra Constrictor, and are intended to also improve my other creatures through Silverflame Ritual. Thoughts?


    1. I love that little menace package. That’s a solid addition to the deck. Having a few extra bodies to block with could help round the deck out when you go attacking with Zurgo. I am a huge believer in the power of Vigilance in Commander, so I also agree with Serra’s Guardian. I’m not sure if I published the one about Vigilance on this site yet or not. I’ll get on it ASAP if I haven’t.

      I’m excited to hear about your deck, and I hope it brings you great helm-smashing moments!


      1. After some testing it goes pretty well, but is best at games of attrition, which don’t happen very often. It builds up slower than I would like, but it doesn’t really have a hard cap on the damage output, so it kinda works.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s awesome. Fittingly, attrition is a great card for wars of attrition. Also, strands of night is a decent budget option for constant recursion as well. In case you feel like a few of those effects could help force people into that style of game. Likewise, Gravepact is a powerful tool for warping a game and may fit nicely into your deck despite it not being a sacrifice deck by design.

    Thanks for the update!


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