Zada, Ally to Spells

Posted in Serious Fun on September 8, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Way back when, in the days when the Guildpact was a document rather than a Planeswalker, there was a special group of creatures called Nephilim. Many people loved them because they were four-colored creatures. Now, before you go crazy, my preview card is not a four-colored creature. While the four-color creatures were beloved, it was mostly because of the shtick. Wizards of the Coast had never made a four-colored creature, and all of a sudden we had five of them!

Unfortunately, for the most part, they were uninteresting and didn't really inspire deck building. Except for one.

Ink-Treader Nephilim was the "no black mana" version, and its ability was the most interesting of the bunch. You would cast an instant or sorcery that targeted only the Ink-Treader Nephilim, and you would copy that spell to target every other creature it could. This also worked for your opponents, so they could wreck your fun with a single Murder, which acted like a Damnation, taking out most of the creatures on the battlefield.

When I first saw Zada, Hedron Grinder, I thought of Ink-Treader Nephilim.

You can see why I made the comparison! At first blush it sounds a lot like Ink-Treader Nephilim. It copies instants and sorceries to all creatures! I was picturing how this would fit nicely into so many Ink-Treader decks, likely allowing them to shrink into just two or three colors. Then I noticed the two key differences:

  1. "You." Zada's effect only works when you cast the instant or sorcery, not whenever it is cast. This means your opponents can't wreck your fun, jumping in and targeting Zada with spells that would spread to every other creature before you get a chance to do it yourself. An awesome upside from Ink-Treader to be sure!
  2. "Copy that spell for each creature you control." The joy for Johnnies was that the Ink-Treader Nephilim would target every creature, including the opponent's creatures. Threaten, removal spells, and other fun effects messed with the entire board of creatures. Zada is there to help your team and no one else.

These changes are huge. A game-breaking card in the Ink-Treader arsenal like Threaten does absolutely nothing now. On the other hand, a basic card like Titan's Strength gives all your creatures and only your creatures +3/+1, and lets you Scry 1 as many times as you have creatures, all for the low cost of a single red mana. I just saw a bunch of you sit up and take notice. This isn't worse than Ink-Treader, this is completely different!

Zada, Hedron Grinder | Art by Chris Rallis

Zada is probably best used as a way to give all your creatures a benefit. Exalted is cute, but if you are giving all your creatures a bonus, wouldn't you want to attack with more than one? This means you are probably going to want to get Zada into decks with plenty of creatures that attack.

Zada is also going to be great as a bluff. Everyone will be expecting you to do something to Zada that will affect all your creatures, so attacking into a stronger force will leave your opponent fearing a blowout spell. Admittedly, this is really an all-in sort of bluff. You can't hold a few creatures back in case they don't buy it, because why would you do that if you're convinced everything is going to get through? I don't know that I have the poker face or intestinal fortitude to pull off a bluff of this magnitude, but the stories you could tell of your high-risk, high-reward play would be epic!

While I'm sure many will try, I'm not sure if Zada is cut out to lead your 100-card decks into battle. There are so many cards in blue and other colors that would work so well with Zada's ability that it would seem a shame to limit your Commander decks to just red. I can see Zada being an amazing role player in a multicolor deck. If you come up with a Zada Commander deck, I'd love to see it!

So what sorceries and instants would I want to target Zada, Hedron Grinder?

Size Matters

These are the cards you use to buff your creatures. Whether you are using these cards to make surprisingly big blockers, powerful attackers, or some other benefit provided by large creatures, there are plenty of instants and sorceries out there that will work with Zada to swell your creatures to massive proportions.

Increasing Savagery—It offers a mile-high pile of +1/+1 counters, particularly if you can use the flashback. The permanence of the boost is appealing here, along with my love for +1/+1 counters. There are so many things you can do with these counters beyond hitting for more damage.

Might of Oaks—Instant-speed pump makes this a delightful combat trick for only four mana. I've played in more than one game where Might of Oaks was the blowout. If you can give the bonus to five creatures instead of just one, this can only become more impressive.

Stonewood Invocation and Vines of Vastwood—Both make your creatures untargetable as well as bigger, which is just a no-brainer. Zada gives it to everyone!

Hunter's Prowess—Bigger creatures, trample, and pretty much as many cards as you want? I know it costs five mana. I know it's a sorcery. Do you realize how many cards you are going to draw?

Hunter's Prowess | Art by Greg Staples

Crazy Sauce

Swinging with bigger creatures is great, but what about the truly crazy stuff? What cards are just going to be straight up wackadoodle with Zada, Hedron Grinder?

Kicked Rite of Replication—I admit, five copies of Zada won't be all that effective, as it is a legendary creature, but getting five copies of every other creature you control would be pretty nice. So many enters-the-battlefield effects, multiple big creatures, and general zaniness.

Tempt with Reflections—I think this card was designed to create silly board states, particularly in multiplayer games where you can get multiple copies of a card. I can only imagine how this will explode with multiple creatures getting targeted. This also means that your opponents will all get a copy of Zada, but if you are playing Tempt with Reflections and Zada together, everyone having a Zada is probably just the kind of game you wanted!

The Deck

Since Zada, Hedron Grinder is an Ally, my thought was to pair the card with other Allies. I could list off several Allies that would love to get the benefits that Zada can offer. Unfortunately, as I write this, I know there will be Allies in Battle for Zendikar, but I don't know what they do. So that amazing Ally that was revealed just yesterday? I don't know about that card yet. My preview card for next week? Well, yes, I do know what that card is, but I'm not sharing it just yet. I could pair Zada with Allies from the original Zendikar block, but I think I'd rather see Zada's ability shine through.

Grinding Hedrons

Download Arena Decklist

The deck includes Rite of Replication to give us all sorts of craziness. Artful Dodge helps the creatures break through stalemates while Assault Strobe doubles the damage your creatures deal out for only one mana. Balduvian Rage multiplies your damage, giving you an X spell that is copied for every creature you control! I considered Isochron Scepter here, but I like to have a few more options than that would offer.

The creatures each provide some help with our sorceries and instants. Charmbreaker Devils are beasts in combat, getting the benefit of the spell through Zada, and an extra +4/+0. While it doesn't get the +4/+0 for each copy of the spell (only the original is cast), getting the benefit for each sorcery cast is great! The Devils even bring one of your sorceries or instants back each turn. Even if it isn't one that helps in your particular situation, getting the +4/+0 is handy.

Wee Dragonauts has featured in plenty of my decks. It doesn't get as big as Charmbreaker Devils, but it is far less expensive and evades most blockers just by flying over them. With the cheap cost of most of the spells, this can get big quickly.

I keep trying with Echo Mage. I put it in decks because it looks great, then ends up being underwhelming. We will try again here, but if it doesn't work out, there are plenty of creatures out there ready to jump into place.

Izzet Chronarch gets our spells back to cast again and Nivix Guildmage gives me another way to copy the spell. The Guildmage is a cheap body that helps the multiplying effect of Zada, so I hope to see the Guildmage hit early and often.

This is hardly a tuned deck, but it showcases what Zada can do. Zada may not slot easily into many of the "sorcery and instant" decks currently out there. Those decks tend to focus on instants or sorceries that either don't target creatures or are burn and/or bounce spells that you wouldn't want targeting your creature. Zada is an opportunity for each of us to start a build from scratch. Let's get to it!

Bruce Richard


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