1800 or Bust!: How Many Colours?

Jim’s roommate:”If you build a 5-Color deck, I’ll build one too.” Then he punked out. What’s a playa to do?

For many of us, Magic isn’t just a game about winning tourneys, collecting prizes and raising our rankings. Sure, they’re all aspects of the game that I like – but there’s much more to it than that. So while sitting down with my flatmate Tarik one evening and adding the latest few suggested cards into my test gauntlet, an interesting proposition was put to me.

"If you build a 5-Color deck, I’ll build one too."

Tarik has just about given up Magic for the moment, so this intrigued me:

"Five-colour? You mean five colour green?"

"Nope", said Tarik. "Five colours with 250 cards. I’ll show you the website."

I must admit I’d heard of 5-Color Magic, but I’d not seen any decks and I certainly hadn’t seen what the rules were. Half an hour later I’d read the rules, handily available at http://www.5-color.com, and was sitting at the computer going through other people’s 5-Color decks listed in Star City’s 5-Color Magic section.

Boy, are they different from normal Magic decks.

My first thought was to take the knowledge I have about building sixty-card decks and apply it to a-250 card deck. I reckoned that I’d need around a third land, creatures, and spells as normal – but there were a few things that began to nag at me.

In 60 card decks, if you play four of something you have a reasonable chance that you’ll see one of them in the first eight turns of a game. Three of something and it’ll turn up a little later, two of something that you’d like to see late game, and one of something that you’d like to see occasionally or want to Tutor for. So, if there are four cards in a 60-card deck, drawing seven at the start of a game means that you should see one in eight turns, how many do you need in a 5-colour deck? It turns out to be roughly seventeen.

If you have seventeen cards of a similar type, you should see one in the first eight turns of the game and one every fifteen turns thereafter – at least that’s what the math says.

However. There’s a BIG but…

As any one can tell you, you can have four Birds of Paradise in a deck and not see one for games and games, or have just one Squallmonger and see it in every match of a tourney! As you increase the number of cards in a deck, this phenomenon increases (which is why most deckbuilders recommend sticking to sixty cards). What you’re going to find is that if you have sixteen of something (mana-producing elves, perhaps) you may just have an opening hand with four of them – or you could see none all game. This means that, at the very least, decks aren’t going to be as consistent as Type II or Extended players are used to…. Which is good, because it means you never really know what you’re going to pull out of the deck next.

Anyway, back to building my deck.

Sixteen of something and I’ll get to see it. Hmm. Is there any way I can reduce that number? Traditional wisdom says that including cards like Opt and Accumulated Knowledge effectively reduce the size of your deck, making you more likely to draw the cards you really want to see. So, given that we can have pretty much any cards we want, we should be able to play thirty or forty of these…

But if we did, we’d end up having draws where all we saw, all game, were deck-thinning cards. Some cards like this might be good if they help us to do other things, but too many of these and we won’t be doing anything. However, not all cards like this are pure card-drawing cards; remember Cycling? Playing with Cycling cards allows us to avoid playing lots and lots of pure card drawing cards, but still dig into our decks – GREAT – and one other thing: There are lots of common cycling cards, which brings me on to another aspect of the game: Playing for ante.

I was talking to a friend about 5-Color last night and she sounded really happy about it and was willing to give it a go until I mentioned ante. What she wanted was a format where she could play all her older, fun cards – but she doesn’t want to lose them. I know that you can play Jewelled Birds and other things to change your ante cards, but without adding a mechanism into the deck to get them, you won’t see them often and you will lose something of value if you lose. Ante might give some people who’d otherwise play 5-Color second thoughts. My answer will be to build decks with cards in that I don’t mind if I lose them: lots of commons and uncommons and rares that I have more than four of.

Back once again to the deck.

So. Some deck-thinning cards, but not too many. About a hundred land and seventeen or so of any type of card I’d like to see regularly, and if I can play useful cantrips or cards with cycling I’ll have more things to do each turn and will be able to get to cards I want to see.

Now I just needed to think of a theme. I sat down and had a look at the decks that were out there. Randy Buehler Suicide deck looked interesting and showed me that starting with a tourney idea isn’t a bad one, so I sat down and started to think.

How about Counter Burn? There sure are a lot of counterspells, and there’s a hell of a lot of burn out there too. On the other hand, counter burn (and control decks in general) either need to have an answer to a threat in hand when it is cast, or need to be able to deal with it in short order. With such a large deck, you can’t guarantee that you’ll have the answers you need when you need them.

Rebels? Boring. Okay there are plenty of rebels you can put in that can take up well over forty cards, but I’m looking for a more fun deck to play. Then again, I always have liked small white creatures… How about a more traditional white weenie base? That should control the ground, and with a few Shadow creatures in I only really have to worry about the air then.

Air? Hmm. What if I then add a Blue Skies feel to the deck, too? I’ll have the ground AND the air sewn up. That gives me red, green and black for support.

Red and green offer two mechanics that I can easily find sixteen cards of – burn and making things bigger – so I went through and added a load of those spells, too.

Here’s the deck I ended up with:

My First Five Colour Deck

Green (26 cards):
4x Giant Growth
4x Rancor
4x Wild Might
4x Gaea’s Might
4x Thornscape Familiar
2x Overrun
4x Wall of Blossoms

Red (22):
4x Shock
4x Seal of Fire
4x Fireball
4x Tribal Flames
4x Disintegrate
2x Thunderscape Familiar

Black (18):
4x Recover
4x Cremate
4x Nightscape Familiar
4x Ihsan’s Shade
2x Spirit of the Night

Blue (32):
4x Opt
4x Impulse
4x Worldly Council
4x Rishadan Airship
2x Ribbon Snake
4x Cloud of Faeries
4x Air Elementals
4x Stormscape Familiar
2x Palinchron

White (38):
4x Mother of Runes
4x Soltari Monk
4x Soltari Priest
4x White Knight
4x Fresh Volunteers
4x Steadfast Guard
4x Longbow Archers
2x Sunscape Familiar
4x Glorious Anthem
4x Ramosian Rally

Artifact (14):
4x Barbed Sextant
4x Chromatic Sphere
4x Urza’s Bauble
2x Astrolabe

Land (100):
4x Slippery Karst
4x Remote Island
4x Polluted Mire
4x Drifting Meadow
4x Smoldering Crater
6x Swamp
12x Forest
6x Mountain
30x Plains
26x Island

I added the Familiars because, well – why not. The artifacts are all designed to help me out with my mana whilst drawing me some more cards, and I’ve thrown in a few fun creatures like Palinchron, Spirit of the Night, and Ihsan’s Shade – mainly because I really like them and they’re fun!

Putting this together was more of a problem than choosing the cards. My cards are all stored by expansion and colour so they’re easy to find but there are so many of them! After twenty minutes I’d only got half of the cards together, and gave it a break as Tarik had given up completely!

"I’ve put two complete decks into it and I’m not even half done."

"So what you’re saying is I’ve just built this and you can’t be bothered, so I’ve got no-one to play?"


I went out to get a drink.

I have now finished the deck, though, and will be taking it with me to tourneys from now on, just in case I can get a game with it. I really don’t know how it’s going to play, but I’m looking forward to playing a lot.

At the end of the day Type II will remain my favourite format – even if it costs a fortune and the archetypes can bore you to tears after three months. Limited is fun, but I’m not very good at it yet. 5-Color Magic, on the other hand, offers a different set of challenges from Type II, but needs some of the same skills – so it looks like it could keep me happy when Type II is getting me down.

To anyone out there who wants to give 5-Color a go, I’d say two things: Put some time aside to do it; one hour just isn’t enough and try to make sure you’re going to have someone to play against. Spending two hours building a deck this size and finding you can’t play with it is kind of disheartening.

If you’d like to send me any 5-Color related comments (like "your deck is bad because you’re not playing the power nine" or "I really like your deck but it won’t work because you haven’t got Demonic Consultation in it"), please do. 5-Color is a new format to me, and one I’d like to get better at.

Have fun.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.