Conditions Allow - Zalto, Fire Giant Duke EDH

Ben Doolittle • August 3, 2021

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke | Art by Zezhou Chen

Enter the Dungeon with Zalto EDH

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take a legendary creature with a drawback and turn it into a strength. Today, I'm venturing into the Forgotten Realms, to main halls of Ironslag to request an audience with Zalto, Fire Giant Duke. Let's dive into Zalto EDH!

Zalto EDH starts with the Duke himself: Zalto, Fire Giant Duke is a five-mana Giant Barbarian with three toughness. Whenever he is dealt damage, you venture into the dungeon. Dungeons are a new card to Magic, with an array of abilities including gaining life, drawing cards, and making various tokens. It's even possible to win just by traversing one of the three dungeons over and over again. But Zalto won't get you that far on his own. He has to take damage to venture into the dungeon. With only three toughness, he's likely to die without assistance and supplies. A stray Prismari Command or Blasting Station could easily leave you leaderless, and lost.

Before getting to how to keep Zalto alive, let's look at the dungeons themselves to figure out why. What awaits you in these lost crypts?

Choose Your Adventure

There are three dungeons, which you have access to at all times from outside the game. When an effect tells you to "venture into the dungeon," you choose one, place it in the command zone, and put a venture counter on the first room. Then do what that room says. The next time you venture into the dungeon, you move your counter through the dungeon, following the arrows along the branching paths, triggering each room's effect as you enter. Once you get to the last room, the dungeon leaves your command zone. The next time you venture, you can choose the same dungeon or a different one to explore.

Each dungeon has a different number of rooms, and a different set of effects. The Tomb of Annihilation isn't great for Zalto, Fire Giant Duke. Discarding cards or sacrificing permanents is likely to affect your own board more than your opponents, so it's probably best to stay out of this one.

The other two dungeons, Dungeon of the Mad Mage and Lost Mine of Phandelver, are more enticing. Dungeon of the Mad Mage has more powerful abilities, but it takes longer to get through. This makes it less flexible, since you can more easily get stuck without access to the effect you need. It has a more powerful final room, though, letting you draw three cards and cast a spell among them for free. The Lost Mine of Phandelver is shorter, offering more consistent advantage, and can even put +1/+1 counters on your commander. Both, however, make Treasure and creature tokens. These make excellent fodder for Skullclamp and fuel the best ways to damage Zalto, Fire Giant Duke.

For Zalto EDH, the dungeon's aren't so much the payoff of the deck, but the engine. With a consistent source of damage, Zalto, Fire Giant Duke will provide steady mana and card advantage, fueling the rest of the deck. So let's start by considering the best sources of damage for Zalto, Fire Giant Duke.

Pain Makes You Stronger

Pingers, or creatures that tap to deal damage, are an established archetype. Prodigal Pyromancer, Goblin Sharpshooter, and Thermo-Alchemist can form a solid deck, but I don't think they fit here. I'd much rather play damaging effects I can use multiple times a turn. Those creatures also die fairly easily to Pyrohemia, which is arguably the best card to pair with Zalto, Fire Giant Duke. With just four mana, you can complete the Lost Mine of Phandelver in a single turn rotation. That is scry 1, make a Treasure token, shrink an attacking creature, and draw a card. Not the kind of steady, resilient play pattern that you expect from a mono-red deck. Kumano, Master Yamabushi is a more expensive version of this effect, that also avoids some of the negative attention that Pyrohemia tends to attract. Finally, Ghirapur Aether Grid needs a little help to get started, but only gets better as you accumulate Treasure and draw more artifacts from your deck.

Our Zalto EDH deck is going to need more than just three sources of damage, however. Of all the creatures that tap to deal a single damage, the best is (possibly) Endbringer. Not only is Endbringer large enough to survive Pyrohemia, it also untaps itself every turn. This means you can venture into the dungeon once every turn, and without using any mana. Inferno Titan and Brash Taunter, on the other hand, can only venture once a turn, but they have additional utility. Brash Taunter, in particular, pushes the game forward. By fighting Zalto, Fire Giant Duke, you'll get to venture into the dungeon, and throw seven damage at an opponent. The taunter is also indestructible, very valuable when there's so much damage being thrown around.

The next creature isn't nearly as sturdy. Jeska, Warrior Adept is the only Prodigal Pyromancer style pinger in the list. She beats out cheaper creatures thanks to haste, so she doesn't have to wait a turn to venture with Zalto, Fire Giant Duke. And a three power first striker is a fine blocker. Barbed Field has the added advantage of enchanting a land. It'll dodge board wipes and most pinpoint removal. Staff of Nin is more expensive, coming down the turn after Zalto, but also has its own draw trigger.

Payment Up Front

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke is an engine that converts damage into cards, and the best damage effects will need a lot of mana. Pyrohemia can deal two damage to Zalto on each player's turn, but that takes eight red mana per turn cycle. Mana ramp is hugely important for this deck, with a heavy emphasis on red mana. Lavabrink Floodgates is a great rattlesnake for any deck that goes wide, plus it taps for two red mana. Cursed Mirror has even greater utility, copying the best creature in play when you cast it. An extra Brash Taunter is always welcome. Finally, Manascape Refractor should definitely be in more decks. It comes with a huge amount of utility, like being a second Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

I also want to highlight Coveted Jewel. Adding this card to games has been incredibly fun, and adds a huge political element to any game automatically. It can be daunting to let an opponent draw three cards and gain three mana, but with Pyrohemia, Inferno Titan and some equipment that give flying, its easy to get back. That (semi) consistent draw three a turn is so powerful, on top of the swingy plays Coveted Jewel enables and incentivizes.

For a more obviously powerful card, let's add Unwinding Clock. Seedborn Muse is a ridiculous card and Unwinding Clock might seem less powerful, but its not. It guarantees you'll be able to ping Zalto, Fire Giant Duke for two damage every turn, and combos insanely well with Ghirapur Aether Grid and dungeon Treasure. If Unwinding Clock stays in play for a turn or two around the table, you'll be hard pressed to lose.

Into Battle

But how does this Zalto EDH actually win? There are a couple ways.

One is just by attacking. Hammer of Nazahn, Darksteel Plate, and Shield of Kaldra all make the cut just for indestructible, so it makes sense to add a few more equipment to round out the theme. Zalto, Fire Giant Duke has seven power and trample, making him a natural Voltron commander. He also takes unique advantage of another card from the Forgotten Realms commander decks, Fiendlash. You already want to be pinging Zalto every turn. When you do, Fiendlash will let Zalto deal damage equal to his power to another player. Thanks to the +2/+0, that's 18 damage from two pings. Add Grafted Exoskeleton and take a player out each time you activate Pyrohemia.

Treasures are another win condition. In addition to the Treasures generated by the dungeons themselves, I'm also adding Captain Lannery Storm for some early game ramp, and as another body to have in play. In addition, Treasure Map helps smooth out your draws, and then flips into a land that turns those treasures into cards. Hellkite Tyrant is the real payoff though, straight up winning the game if you have enough artifacts in play.

The final combo is a little more convoluted. You'll need Pyrohemia or Kumano, Master Yamabushi, plus Hammer of Nazahn equipped to Zalto, Fire Giant Duke. Then, cast Mana Geyser to generate at least seven mana and copy it with Reiterate, paying for Buyback. Keep copying Mana Geyser to create infinite mana, and then use it to deal one damage to Zalto infinite times. This lets you venture into the Lost Mine of Phandelver infinite times, choosing the Dark Pool room each time to drain your opponents to death. This also works with just Pyrohemia and infinite mana, but the dungeon helps offset the damage being dealt to you.

Round out the list with some interaction, card draw, and a few more equipment, and this is what it looks like.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

And that's Zalto EDH! I was initially a little skeptical of the dungeons, but this deck is really cool. It isn't often that red gets to play like Simic, snowballing advantage throughout the game until you win by sheer depth of resources, but Zalto, Fire Giant Duke can do just that. He's also got the explosive potential you expect from a red commander, thanks to Brash Taunter and Fiendlash.

Let me know what you think though. Are there any cards I left out? What do you think of the dungeons and this build of Zalto EDH? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.