Building Your First Five, Volume 1: Planning It Out

I asked a few of my friends why they hadn’t gotten into Five Color yet; after all, they enjoyed watching Five Color play. Was it the ante? Getting the cards? Not having any powerful cards? Not wanting to use sleeves? Nope; they didn’t want to build the deck, because they didn’t know where to start. And if that is you and why YOU’RE not playing Five Color, then just read on.

So you’ve read the articles about Five Color. Maybe you have a friend or two who play. Or maybe you are just bored with the status quo, and want to find something different. Those cards are rotating out of Extended; you looking for something else to play? Whatever is going on, Five Color can be your ticket to a new and exciting format.

I asked a few of my friends why they hadn’t gotten into Five Color yet; after all, they enjoyed watching us play. I even split my deck in half and would play against them – and they had a great time. So, why wouldn’t they build a deck and start playing? Was it the ante? Getting the cards? Not having any powerful cards? Not wanting to use sleeves? Nope.

They didn’t want to build the deck.

This has been the overwhelming concern when I talk to people at pre-releases and PTQs. They don’t know where to start! I did the simple thing – I looked it up. So I hit the ‘Net and started trying to find a good article or set of articles telling people how to get started.

Know what? My search did not yield the results I had expected.

Instead of finding a good foundation of articles to which I could direct new players, I found nothing. The occasional article might mention how to build a Five Color deck in, say, two pages… But Five Color is truly different than building a sixty-card deck. The mana base alone deserves a special article! True, some people do start playing Five Color by putting a horde of fun cards in a deck along with a bunch of lands and going to town. But, a lot more people need a plan – they need organization. There needs to be some guidance for building a deck the size of Pisa’s Tower.

In short, they need a series of articles dedicated to the construction and playing of a Five Color deck.

Now, I didn’t initially want to do this: Heck, I was hoping that the official Five webpage would run something like this. Maybe somebody else would step into the gap – and heck, I did not want to be pigeonholed as”That Five Color Writer.” I do write about more, after all.

But still… No one was writing about Five.

Enough is enough. There is a need in the Magic community for something else. Lots of players are tired of the blasé Magic, and need something more. They call out,”If I only had the cards,” or,”If I only knew how.” I have received numerous e-mails from players wanting to know more about Five Color. Somebody needs to step up and write this series.

Enter the Abe.

Now, we need to start thinking about building a Five-Color deck. That’s all Step One is, really. Just thinking. We need to plan our route of attack. So for a second, I want you to envision your favorite deck of all time. What was it? Why was it your favorite? Did it win, or was it just fun? Are you still able to play it, or have the cards left the format?

For this article series, we are actually going to construct three different Five Color decks, in order to show how to do it. It’s like”This Old House” meets StarCity. I want to first deck to be a very controllish deck, in order to show how hard it is to build. I also want to go casual with a fun Beast deck. However, I have no clue what else to build; send post here on the forums as to what you would like to see, and I’ll choose one and run with it. Anyways, let’s get to Step One.

Like most of Magic, Five Color can be thought of as broken into the basic three archetypes: Control, Aggro, and Combo. However, most decks incorporate at least two of the types. Control might have a little combo to win with, for example. Aggro might toss in a combo with its creatures, like, say, Mortal Combat, in order to help secure a win. Control might utilize a more creature-centered focus with Flametongues and Battlemagi in order to beatdown and keep command of the board.

So, yeah, the three types are there, but they blend together. I’ve seen the beatdown decks with control critters have combo elements to them – all three types in one tasty package!

Think about what you want out of Five Color. What does your playgroup enjoy? Will this be a more casual deck with multiplayer Five Color? Will your decks use a lot of big effects and bigger creatures in an attempt to assuage your inner-Timmy? Or will you want your Five Color deck to dismantle all other Fives that stand before you?

Again, more thoughts, but no action yet.

Now that you have the general idea of what your deck might do, allow me to introduce you to the rules of Five Color. Here we will analyze some of the rules of the game, and also look at how it changes deck building.

You play with 250 cards minimum.

I’ve heard a lot of players refer to the format as 250 because of this rule. This is, of course, the most daunting aspect of Five Color: How do you find 250 cards that fit together in a cohesive theme? Well… We’ll talk about that in a bit, but for now, just recognize that the deck is big. No, bigger than that. Big.

You must play with eighteen cards in each color.

This is actually easier for some colors and harder for others. Every deck type, for example, can easily find eighteen black cards. Finding red or white cards can be much harder for some decks. It is important to point out that gold and split cards can count for either color, but not both. Post-Invasion block makes this requirement much easier; so, for example, each Fire/Ice and Prophetic Bolt in a hypothetical control deck can count as either color, probably red.

All cards printed in legal sets are allowed, except…

Five Color allows everything from Arabian Nights on through Onslaught. Note that cards are legal in 250 as soon as they are available at the pre-release. Also, no Portal or Unglued. However, 250 has its own banned and restricted list – wholly separate from the DCI and Type One. And the list is updated monthly. With its own B&R list, a player needs to check the list regularly in order to avoid playing with the wrong cards. For this series, we will actually hit the B&R list in a later article, so just hold on tight for now.

All games are played for ante.

Of course, you can simply agree not to, but it is customary that games are played for ante. This changes deck construction completely around. Primarily, you don’t want to play with anything you might lose. Also, ante cards are now legal, with Jeweled Bird and Contract From Below being high-powered cards. Let me explain the ante process briefly, because it will also affect deck building.

Prior to any ante, the deck must be shuffled. Then the top card is flipped over. Now, at any time, the opposing player may decide to stop and play for the revealed card – so, a basic Mountain, for example, would never, ever stop the ante. But, your opponent might want to play for the Mountain if it were, say, an APAC Mountain or whatever. The ante stops whenever any non-land foil or a non-land rare card is revealed. So a foil Opt stops the ante. So does a Soltari Emissary. But, no land will ever stop the ante. That Yavimaya Coast, for example, does not stop the ante.

It sounds more confusing than it is. After a few times, you will have the ante down.

Anyways, after an ante is selected, the other revealed cards are shuffled up, and you play. Oh yeah; the highest casting cost on the ante card plays first. If that is a tie, go by whoever has more colored mana symbols. Then use a random method if it is still the same.

Ante is important to consider when building your deck for three major reasons:

1) Stay clear of cards you don’t want to lose.

2) You may use most ante cards

3) Play rares that are cheap and will stop the ante

While the first two points are fairly obvious, the third is subtler, and many early players do not even consider it. Imagine that you are playing a beatdown deck with a lot of the fastest and most powerful creatures of all time. Now, how many rares are you playing? Contract, a couple of restricted cards, maybe some Armageddon or Armageddon-substitutes. And maybe a couple of your creatures. In other words, a lot of your key cards are rare, and you have few rares.

So up the rare count. Cards like Soltari Emissary, Soltari Champion, and Forsaken Wastes make excellent adjuncts to a beatdown deck. Cheap rares that are easily replaceable can help to protect the key cards in your deck. These”Ante Stoppers” do help at times.

Besides, do you want your opponent to see half your deck trying to find one of your twelve rare cards?

One more thing about ante that concerns new people: Practically all Five players give easy tradebacks, unless they need the card for their own deck. The number of stories about players trading a Cursed Scroll back to its owner for a soda, or that Force of Will for a Flametongue Kavu, and so forth are legion. If ante really bothers you, then play for something else.

Personally, I like to play for”Pack Ante.” In Pack Ante, the loser has to buy the winner a pack of an in-print product and playing Contract ups the pack ante.

Sleeves are now allowed – sorta.

Sleeves are now supported for casual play and local tournaments at the discretion of the Tournament Coordinator. However, they are still disallowed at title events. So, you may now use sleeves in casual play. Before, this prevented players from playing with cards that they did not want to be damaged – and as such, was a restriction on deck building.

Some cards have official Five Color errata.

Before using a Wish, Chaos Orb, Ring of Ma’Ruf, Jeweled Bird, or Contract, make sure that you review the current rulings. We will actually discuss the Wish, Contract, and Bird in a later article. Maybe the Chaos Orb as well.

And that’s pretty much it for the rules that affect deck building. There are other rules, of course, like mulligans, which are very liberal in Five Color. Still, the above rules are important to keep in mind when thinking about a Five Color deck. All of the other standard rules (no more than four of a card, excluding basic lands, for example) apply.

Now go back to that idea you had. Which decktype were you thinking about again? A deck you had a lot of fun with before, maybe a deck you miss. Maybe it’s a deck you wish were viable again, but time has passed it by. Mull over that for a bit while we discuss the manifestations of a few archetypes in Five Color.

The dominant beatdown deck is probably 3-2-1 Contract. The idea behind 3-2-1 Contract is simple: Play with really fast creatures and try to get a Contract as soon as possible in a blitzkrieg attempt to overwhelm your opponent before he can attempt a defense. Defense is harder than offense in Five Color, and this deck type tries to use that to its advantage. All of the creatures ideally cost three or less and only use one colored mana in its cost, at most. Then they put in a bunch of Contracts, tutors for Contracts, and other effects like Wheel of Fortune, Windfall, and so forth. Sample beatdown creatures include Savannah Lions, Sarcomancy, Carnophage, Jackal Pup, Mogg Fanatic, River Boa, Skyshroud Elite, Kird Ape, Serendib Efreet, Sedge Troll, Phyrexian War Beast, Chimeric Idol, and so forth. Pepper with a few Armageddon effects, or maybe some burn and Price of Progress, and you have a strong, classic decktype.

Combo can take several forms. There are some classic combos that have now been nuked with the Banned and Restricted list – like Mind over Matter/Urza’s Blueprints or Oath of Druids/Anarchist/Replenish or Earthcraft/Squirrel Nest. Instead, new combos need to be found – and they are out there. Recoup/Yawgmoth’s Will plus Traumatize/Morality Shift/Hermit Druid can get a Replenish or Living Death and win instantly. Underworld Dreams, Black Vise, and all subsequent Vise-like effects + Windfall, Prosperity, Wheel and Deal, and so forth might be nice. And old school. Mono-brown was played heavily for a while, but the restriction of Transmute Artifact has toned it down a bit. There may still be some options there, though.

If you have a combo that you really like, it’s very easy to build it into a Five Color deck. I’d guess that over half of the control decks out there play a full set of Sylvan Libraries with an Abundance or two. Lots of control decks have a combo or two hidden away for special occasions; I personally have Goblin Bombardment in my Living Death deck, for example.

Control can take a few types. Probably a popular one utilizes the 187 creatures to build an effective card advantage engine with creatures, then tries to swing through with them. Flametongue Kavu, Man O’War, the Battlemagi, Bone Shredder, Ghitu Slinger, Avalanche Riders, Ravenous Baboons, Nekrataal, Uktabi Orangutan, Wall of Blossoms, and Monk Realist are excellent examples of the sorts of creatures this decktype might harness.

Another control type deck chooses to focus on a more traditional control atmosphere with cards like Wrath of God and all other Wrath effects, Teferi’s Moat, Evacuation, Starstorm, Savage Twister, some burn, some bounce, and some countermagic. It is a very blue-focused deck, spiced with a few defensive creatures like Ophidians, Wall of Blossoms, and Jungle Barrier. The deck tries to create a large card advantage barrier between the players, then drops a Morphling or Rainbow Efreet-type creature and rolls for the win. Alternatively, Avatar of Fury is an excellent choice for the beatdown creature.

Of course, you probably already have a deck in mind. Maybe it’s a Living Death type deck (like mine). Or you could have some tribal deck like Slivers or Beasts or something. Maybe a Sneak Attack deck, or Erna-Geddon (with more geddons than Armageddon and more big creatures than http://sales.starcitygames.com/cardsearch.php?singlesearch= ErnhamErnham). Maybe the Rebel engine gets your dander up. Fluctuator combo? Invincible Counter Troll?

Whatever you have in mind, here is what I want you to do over the next week. Think about your deck. If it were just sixty cards, how would you build it? Then think about what you would have to cut to bring your deck don to sixty cards. All of those things you want to cut will now make it. Review your card collection. Look at those cards that have rotated out of Extended and are now next-to-useless… But not in Five Color.

Also, remember that for this series, we are going to build, not one, not two, but three separate decks for 250. I am going to start with a classic control-style deck, because it should be quite difficult and the choices will be interesting. Another deck I’ll build will be a more casual theme deck centered around, say, Beasts. The third deck is up for grabs. I let the posts that I get decide what decktype we will build, right here, in these articles. So pop by our forums and let me know what theme you would like to see us use.

More thinking, of course. Consider what your traditional control deck and Beast decks would look like. What would they center around? Remember the rules, and how they affect deck building.

Next week we will discuss the card pool, look at the cards you own, and build the skeleton of these three decks. Building a Five deck is not hard; it’s just different, and we will explore that difference in the next article.

Until later,

Abe Sargent