Battlefield Strategies - Zagras EDH (The One With Guns)

Cody Gregory • March 12, 2021

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats by Anna Steinbauer

Hello friends! Welcome back to Battlefield Strategies, where we take a look at a battle from history and use its strategies in Magic. Today we’ve got a challenge of a battle to cover, and we'll then tackle Zagras EDH. The Battle of the Somme in World War I is one of the deadliest battles in world history and represents a change in how warfare was conducted. World War I, or the Great War, or the War to End All Wars (take your pick) was the largest war in history at the time.

The Battle

Started by the assassination of Archduke and heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, the conflict quickly encompassed the whole globe due to called in treaties and the mobilization of colonies. Germany entered the war on the side of Austria-Hungary (Central Powers) and quickly realized that it would have to fight a war on two fronts between France and Russia. Its plan was to take France out as fast as possible before the massive country of Russia had time to mobilize an army and then pivot to face the potentially larger foe. Germany invaded France via Belgium (who wouldn’t allow German armies to pass through their country) which prompted Great Britain to enter the war. Germany’s advance was halted relatively quickly inside France and the true Great War finally began. The biggest takeaway, in my opinion, of any quick look at WWI is that it had 20th-century technology but used 19th-century tactics. Old warfare meant advancing an army of troops into the opposing army, while firearms existed, including more accurate rifles and handguns, the general strategy was still to converge on the enemy and engage in close quarters combat. Technological advances in the 1900s made this tactic impossible. Barbed wire proved to be a large roadblock to forces trying to advance and automatic machine guns were able to mow soldiers down at rates that no one had thought imaginable. In order to evade the hailstorm of bullets, armies dug down and the attrition of Trench Warfare began.

The battle of the Somme was an attempt by the Allied Powers to push Germany back and begin to take the offensive. The strategy seemed sound. The plan was to use a new method of artillery fire which involved arching your shots instead of the old method used with cannons that fired artillery directly into your enemies. With mortars being arched, you could fire into the trenches and devastate an enemy position. The Allies hammered the German trenches with artillery for days. Once the German trenches were thoroughly decimated, the allies would simply walk over and set up a new front line in the old trenches of their enemies. What the allies didn’t expect was that the German trenches contained deep underground bunkers that were unaffected by the surface shelling. The Germans simply waited underground while their trenches were being demolished. Once the shelling stopped, the Allied forces mobilized and began what was supposed to be a leisurely walk to the next trench. What they got instead was a full German line with intact machine guns waiting.

For 140 days, this battle raged on. Once it was over, the Allied forces had gained a total of 6 miles. They had suffered casualties at almost 2 to 1 over the Germans and had achieved none of their operational objectives, neither retaking the areas of Peronne or Bapaume and ultimately failing to push the Germans out of France by the winter. One of the biggest impacts that WWI and the Battle of the Somme had was the massive number of casualties it inflicted upon the world, with countries losing 10%-20% of their male population. Still, it is considered an Allied victory. Originally called the “Great Push Forward,” it was renamed by British troops to “The Great F*** Up.”

If you want to learn more about the Battle of the Somme, I suggest this Documentary Drama: 

The Strategy - Building Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats EDH

While I do have a deck list for today that incorporates some strategy from this battle, there is another strategic lesson I want to talk about that we should incorporate into our games. Do not force tactics in a game that obviously has technology that outpaces those tactics. Let me give you an example. A friend in my playgroup has a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck full of all standard nastiness (translated to Wheel effects) that you could expect. I have a mono-blue Wizards deck piloted by Azami, Lady of Scrolls. The main tactic of my deck is to get to Azami as fast as possible and then slowly bury my opponents in card advantage until I can find a way to win, either by taking multiple turns, locking my opponents out, or amassing a huge token army. It is one of my strongest decks, but I cannot play my normal strategy against Nekusar. A normal thing for me to say when piloting Azami is “On your end step, I tap six Wizards and draw six cards.” Those words are Magical Christmas Land to a Nekusar player. If my friend announces he is playing Nekusar, I will intentionally not pick Azami to pilot.

There are sometimes however that I pick mine and he picks his separately. I don’t like to wait until shuffling starts and then all of a sudden change course so I need to shift my focus on how I pilot my deck. Usually I will start becoming more of a tempo deck, trying to get small creatures out early and take advantage of the fact that Nekusar doesn’t field a ton of creatures. If I can put pressure on early and convince the rest of the table to do the same, there is a chance that Nekusar can go down before it strangles all of us. What I most certainly do not do is play Azami. A 0/2 does not put pressure on any opponents and I am not looking to draw that many cards.

There is no telling what strategies you will be up against when you sit down to a Commander game. Creating your decks so that they can play to a few different angles is always going to better your win percentages in the long run. Make sure to pack some artifact removal in your Superfriends deck because you never know who might be playing with The Immortal Sun. Add some Fling or Impact Tremors to your token swarm decks because you might be playing against Pillow Fort. Don’t let opponents’ technology completely negate your tactics.

Machine Guns

Onto the deck. We have Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats and deathtouch as our engines to rip through creatures.

The biggest weapon in WWI was the machine gun. Its ability to quickly mow down whole armies has made it possibly the biggest symbol of warfare in the 20th and 21st century. Unlike bombs which could decimate a whole battlefield, the machine gun rapidly picked off one target at a time. With Zagras at the helm, pingers with deathtouch are “tap: kill target creature.” Some of our best are Goblin Sharpshooter and Deathbringer Thoctar. With deathtouch, the Sharpshooter and Thoctar can wipe out every creature our opponents’ control. Add Thornbite Staff and any pinger we have is just as effective. In the case that Zagras has been temporarily dealt with, we can add Basilisk Collar, Gorgon’s Head, and Quietus Spike to give any of our machine guns deathtouch.


Another major component to the Somme was trenches. Trenches allowed troops to survive the assaults of the enemy and keep soldiers alive. While we don’t have access to protection spells like Teferi’s Protection, black does give us some pretty decent alternatives. Garna, the Bloodflame helps us refuel after a Wrath and has the added ability to give our creatures haste so they can start pinging the minute we recast them. Balthor the Defiled allows us to bring all of our creatures from the graveyard back to the battlefield, and don’t worry if he brings some of your opponents’ creatures with them, activate him on the end step then untap with all of your machine gun creatures and ping them down again! Eldrazi Monument keeps your creatures from being destroyed in the first place.

Zagras Commander


Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
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That’s all for today! Join us next time when we cover a Shakespearean Classic!

Cody is an avid gamer and creator. When he is not playing games of all kinds, he is making them! He has been playing Magic for over 10 years and is a true Izzet mage whose heart belongs to the Firemind. He has a passion to share the joy of Magic with those around him.