Challenge the Stats – Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

(Zaffai, Thunder Conductor | Art by Dmitry Burmak)

Beethoven's Fifth Sorcery

Welcome to Challenge the Stats! This series is based on the awesome EDHRECast segment where we pick out cards that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleepers to challenge EDHREC’s data. Remember, these are merely comments on the data, and card choices made by you, the deckbrewer, for any reason such as flavor, budget, art, or fun are always most important and are what keep our format unique and awesome.

This week, we're talking about one of my favorite new-ish commanders, Zaffai, Thunder Conductor!

Zaffai mixes Spellslinger and Storm strategies with creature token production, encouraging us to cast big spells and build an army of Elementals to conduct right at our opponents' faces. In the past, I haven't been partial to the Spellslinger archetype (tending to favor creature-based strategies), but this is a commander I can get behind! We can even cast large 10+ MV spells to throw around 10 random damage, but mostly we'll be trying to hit at least that five-mana value mark to make an Elemental.

We have a handful of great consultants on this one, including Joey Schultz, Mike Carrozza, Goldshot, Mason Brantley, and TheStephenation.

We're going to challenge the data from all 600 Zaffai decks at the time of writing, and you can see how often those cards are played in parentheses (%). Here we go!



1. Tiny Token-Makers

I don't think Talrand (61%) or Murmuring Mystic (9%) are necessary, since our commander makes big tokens, and we have a slew of other cards that also make us tokens as large as the spells we cast. For example, Shark Typhoon (16%) is the all-star here, and any game I get it out I'm a happy camper. I'll also shout out Deekah, Fractal Theorist (12%) and Metallurgic Summonings (68%) because they can also provide backup plans if Zaffai becomes unavailable. When we're in a Spellslinger deck with oodles of cantrips, that's when I want my Talrand. In this situation, I want a 10/10 flying Shark when I cast my Apex of Power, not a 2/2 Drake.

Also, Shark Typhoon is only in 16% of decks. I know it's $10 bucks, but it's worth every penny. If we cast 50 spells, that's only 20¢ per Shark!

2. Conflicting Strategies

The precon comes packed with a few divergent strategies that are pretty well-balanced but can trip over themselves when we start upgrading. Cheating spells off the top of our library (e.g., Mind's Desire (62%) and Creative Technique (55%)) or out of our graveyard (e.g., Surge to Victory (54%) or Living Lore (12%)) doesn't play well with X-spells (e.g., Muse Vortex (63%) and Epic Experiment (62%)), which are forced to be cast for X=0. If we're going all-in on X-spells, let's keep the cheaty spells to a minimum, and if we're going all-in on cheaty spells, likewise keep the X-spells down. One or two of the opposite strategy won't hurt too much, though, as we've seen from the precon right out of the box.

3. Too Many Creatures!

If a creature is doing a specific job, but it's a job that a spell can do, let's swap it for the spell to get more Magecraft and Storm triggers! Rootha, Mercurial Artist (45%) and Dualcaster Mage (57%) can easily be swapped for Galvanic Iteration (35%), Reiterate (23%), Teach by Example (14%), or many others! Snapcaster Mage or Wildfire Devils (35%) for playing spells from the graveyard? Nah, give me Mission Briefing and Spelltwine (12%).

4. Reinterpret (62%)

This is a great pick from the 'hair' of EDHREC, Joey Schultz. In this deck, Reinterpret is difficult as a counterspell, and unreliable to cheat one of our big spells into play. On top of that, we're extra critical of four-mana spells, since they're just barely under Zaffai's five-mana Elemental threshold. We should either swap it for something much cheaper and more efficient, or something splashier and five or more mana, so that it will also trigger Zaffai.


4. Fury Storm (8%)

Here's a pick from EDHREC writer Mason Brantley. Fury storm is a house. We're usually getting two copies of whatever we're targeting, and if it's late in the game, possibly more. Did an opponent just try to Torment of Hailfire us to death? No worries, we'll cast two copies and they'll resolve first! (P.S. Fury Storm hasn't seen a reprint yet, so its price is likely a bit inflated right now.)

5. Five-Mana Storm Cards

This is another great pick from Joey Schultz: five-mana Storm cards. Each Storm copy triggers Zaffai's Magecraft, creating an Elemental. Even getting a halfway decent Storm count with just one of these spells leaves us with a very big board - potentially even a lethal one! Temporal Fissure wipes out some threats on our opponents' boards while supplying an army of 4/4s. If the Storm count is, say, six, we can compare it to Aether Gale, where selectively hitting several permanents can feel like a one-sided board wipe.

Ignite Memories (10%) will likely be a win-condition, especially if we can copy it with something like Thousand-Year Storm or Swarm Intelligence. Meanwhile, Spreading Insurrection (9%) will net us not only Elementals but our opponents' creatures for a turn! We might not have sac outlets in this deck to fully take advantage of Threaten effects, but having a high Storm count will turn this into a mini-Insurrection or Mob Rule, and we know those can be game-ending. Plus, even if they don't end the game right then and there, we'll get three, five, eight, twelve, twenty, or who knows how many 4/4s to threaten lethal next turn, too!

6. Logic Knot (9%)

Dropping Logic Knot for X = 8+ to simultaneously counter a spell and potentially dome the caster of that spell for 10 damage is just hilarious. This deck fills up the graveyard fast with looting effects, so it's often easy to just pay UU for Logic Knot and Delve away the rest.


7. Knowledge Pool (0 decks)

This is a great pick from Goldshot, a friend from Commander Spellbook. Many people are playing copy spell effects like Swarm Intelligence (71%) and Double Vision (36%), which increase Magecraft triggers. When we cast a spell with Knowledge Pool, we get a Magecraft trigger, then Knowledge Pool tucks that spell away and we cast a spell from the pool (hopefully an instant or sorcery). Then, if we can cast another spell from our hand, we'll grab back our original spell that very same turn! Each spell is two cast triggers, so if we can cast something big that gets sucked into the Pool, then a cantrip to get it back out, we'll get our big spell and four total Magecraft triggers! Plus, if we're following that play pattern and the original spell we cast is a Storm card, by the time we fish it back out of the pool again, we'll get five copies of that spell (including the original)!

8. Outmaneuver (2 decks)

I recently wrote a whole article about this card, and I think it really shines in Zaffai decks. We can make our whole team unblockable, and potentially hit an opponent with Zaffai's 10-damage "ultimate"! Zaffai's 4/4 Elementals are hefty, but they don't have evasion. Outmaneuvering them to do direct damage to our opponents is a great way to help them connect. Just remember to limit your X-spells to a select few if you're not going all-in on the strategy!

9. Immolating Gyre (27 decks)

This gem really snuck under the radar in Jumpstart. It's a completely one-sided board wipe that simply asks us to have instants and sorceries in our graveyard. Sure, once in a blood moon it'll be dead if someone has a Scavenger Grounds, but that's going to be a fairly rare occurrence that we'll be able to play around. It's a low floor, but a rare floor. The ceiling on this will be much easier to hit and it'll be magical Commander holiday-land.

10. Fun Damage Spells!

There are lots of fun damage spells that I wanted to throw out there. They might not all be to your taste, but hopefully you'll find one that piques your interest.

Explosion of Riches (6 decks) does random damage, which is jankily on-theme for our majestic conductor. It's always been fun when I cast this card, and most people take the deal, even if they're low on life. Each player that draws a card puts five random damage on the stack, and then it gets dished out to any of our opponents! That could be 20 damage to one player!

Runeflare Trap (7 decks) is also wonderfully silly. We're never casting it for six mana, but it counts as a six-mana-value spell. It'll be pretty easy to hold one mana open, and it's pretty common to watch a Commander player draw three or more cards in a turn. One mana to deal damage and make a 4/4? Don't mind if I do. Plus, with a cost that low, we might even have some extra mana lying around to copy it.

Khorvath's Fury (3 decks) might be the most awesome of these challenges. My personal Zaffai deck is focused on cheating spells out of the graveyard, so I really like looting my hand away to fill the yard, and if I get to deal damage to everyone else while I do it, that's some very spicy gravy - gravy that could win us the game if we manage to get a few copies of it.

Take it to the Chorus!

Let's go to a decklist! My Zaffai deck wants to loot away big spells and cheat them out of the graveyard. On top of that, we're hoping to build a big army of Elementals. We don't really need to protect our commander because we have so many redundancies: Deekah, Fractal Theorist, Metallurgic Summonings, and my personal favorite, Shark Typhoon can all function as emergency copies of our commander (especially Deekah, since she makes tokens for casts and for copies).

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The Coda

Are there any other cards you would challenge? What do you think of these challenges? Let me know in the comments below! As always, you can find me on twitter @jevin_mtg.

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He has a PhD in nutritional sciences, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramp-les and draw-nanas.

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