Building Your First Five, Volume Six: Thoughts and Musings

When I first sat down to write this series, I had no idea that over 55 pages later, I would finish the first five articles. That’s a novella. I cannot begin to name all of the things I cut or left out, either…. But I’m gonna try here, discussing the Banned and Restricted list, why people are afraid of Ante, the importance of Jeweled Bird – and the Top Ten Creatures In 5!

Wow. When I first sat down to write this series, I had no idea that over 55 pages later, I would finish the first five articles. That’s a novella. I cannot begin to name all of the things I cut or left out, either. I wrote this series of articles to help out the beginner, the newbie, the greenhorn. Five articles on the Internet about Five are about as common as me getting…

Well…You know.

I have a random collection of various thoughts on the series. I even have another article in the series planned in my head. Although I have no plans to turn this series of articles into some Raksonian fest, I must admit that the topic can use a lot more information. However, I have other things I’d like to write about. So, expect Five to be put aside for a while, in favor of some Type One and maybe my new Type Two deck. And this hyper-controversial issues piece I’m working on.

Anyways, without further ado – let’s head into the Thoughts and Musings:

Onslaught, the Restricted List, and Me

It is that time again. There were two cards up for vote this month. I’ve talked about them for a while in the articles. Our Onslaught goodies in Future Sight and Weathered Wayfarer are up on the chopping block. To restrict or not to restrict?

I voted to restrict them both, and for much of the same reason. Let me tell you about the very first game of Five I played with Future Sight (Tweedledee):

So, I have out an Academy Rector, Scroll Rack, several lands, and a Wall of Blossoms. I use the Scroll Rack to get a Diminishing Returns and Phyrexian Plaguelord from my library. I play the Plaguelord, sac the Rector, and get Tweedledee. I wanted to playtest it before I voted on it.

And wowzers, was it ever the right play. I get the Sight, then, next turn, I cast the Returns. I now have a full hand of seven cards. And a Scroll Rack. Using the Scroll Rack, I set up the top seven cards on my library each turn, allowing me to plow through my deck, and about four or five cards a turn. All I needed was a Fastbond and I would have cruised faster than one of those cheats used to make your car fly in Grand Theft Auto III. I easily had a four-card advantage. Per Turn. Nasty.

If Tweedledee is so easily broken with only the smallest bit of work (and in a Living Death deck, for crying out loud), then I think it’s gotta be restricted. Imagine what a deck that actually builds around it can do.

Weathered Wayfarer (Tweedledum) is not so openly broken. However, what the Tweedledum does not give immediately in raw power, he makes up for in steady, pinpoint advantage. Every turn I get an extra card, and so long as I don’t play it or I have less lands than you, I can keep it up ad nauseum. Play with cycling lands or get that Tolarian Academy, Library of Alexandria, Gaea’s Cradle, Bazaar of Baghdad, Volrath’s Stronghold, or whatever. If I have two less lands than you, and I get a Library, then the Wayfarer essentially yields me two cards per turn, one of which is a land.

Tweedledum gets good lands fast, with a great degree of accuracy. It will bury your opponent under an avalanche of card disadvantage – but only through time. Yes, it’s only a 1/1 – but lots of cards that are restricted or banned can be stopped. It is their power when they cannot be stopped which warrants restriction or banning. In this case, I feel that the Wayfarer’s ability is simply too good to allow it to run around in multiples.

Yawgmoth’s”Broken” Will and Mangara’s”Not so Broken” Tome were both on the watch list for this month. People have been talking about banning the Will for a while now. And the Tome is, frankly, an odd, slow card that yields no card advantage, is easily disrupted, and sucks down mana like the runt pigling. Ergo, I have officially requested votes on these cards. I don’t think, as of right now, I’ll vote for the moving of either card off the restricted list… But I want to see the discussion and get a feel for what the community thinks. I’ve changed my mind before, and I am willing to do so in the future.

Jeweled Bird, and an Apology

I meant to include Jeweled Bird in my sample Living Death deck; I apologize for not doing so. Jeweled Bird is an essential Five Color card for many decks. It cantrips, so it can always be used. Plus, it can protect a vital or expensive ante. One special caveat with the Bird, however: Because it goes into the ante, and therefore can seem a little cheesy, only Arabian Nights versions are allowed. We don’t want anybody putting in a quarter Chronicles version or something.

The Birds fit into so many decks, but I didn’t really feel like they fit into the sample control deck at all. There were not enough good cards there to worry about a Bird which has no affect on the game state except to replace itself. Urza’s Bauble can do that. And the Sliver deck might have used Birds, but, again, there were only a few cards there that had any value at all.

The sample Living Death deck, however, had the Deaths, Birds of Paradise, Mox Diamonds, Dual Lands, and so forth. Lots of expensive and halfway decent cards there. That makes the Jeweled Bird much more valuable. You can often tutor for a Jeweled Bird and bitch your ante card if it’s a little too much for your tastes. Expect your opponent do the same. Countering a Jeweled Bird can sometimes ensure you of a good ante, if you are in a winning position… But it is also a devastating moral blow.

Creativity, Innovation, and Discovery

None of the decklists provided with the sample decks were meant to be these all-inclusive, battle-tested tanks. They are simply the place I would start if I were playing the decks. I would immediately begin adding more winners and cutting losers as I played. If Desolation Giant (from the Control 250 deck) worked out really well, you’d expect me to add some. If it sucked and could never be cast, you’d expect me to cut it.

Basic Magic 101, I know. But, you’d be surprised at how many people write in and say things like,”That doesn’t work in my deck,” or,”My playgroup would never allow that to happen.” The solution is simple – change it!

I have no illusions about my deckbuilding skills: I suck at it. Throughout the entire series I suggested other options for cards – ask The Ferrett! He had to put in all of those links! Amazingly enough, I wasn’t putting all of those suggestions in there in order to give him a hard time. Nor was I sitting at my desk and smiling evilly at making The Ferrett do all of that extra work. Those suggestions were meant to illuminate a purpose.

What you want to play is your decision. There is no format which embraces the individuality of the player more than Five Color. There is no format I know of where more cards are viable and legitimate. My first Five Color deck had a cruel combo in it…. And it used, of all things, Mind Whip.

Mind Whip! Go ahead and click on that link and read the card. You know that you can’t remember what it does. Mind Whip. A full set, plus Erratic Minion. Add Winter Orb and Rising Waters, with Rhystic spells, land destroyers, and so forth. Mind Whip was so great.

And that is definitely the beauty of Five Color. Practically every card, ever, can make an appearance. Infernal Denizen? No problem. Rysorian Badger? No problem. Scarwood Bandits? I play them myself.

So take the idea of a deck with 250 cards and run with it. Play whatever floats your boat – or, as we say in southern West Virginia (where I grew up), whatever blows up your skirt.


In Five Color the combos are more elaborate, the creatures are bigger, the spells are flashier, the effects are more grandiose: Did I mention that the decks are the size of Mt. Vesuvius?

It is the size of your deck that matters. You definitely have enough room for your personality, with space left over for Miss Mary Finkelstein and her two fat kids who play clarinet for the local Junior High .

And Yet, Beware

All of the above comes with an interesting caveat, however. There is a reason we need a restricted and banned list. Loads of people have fun by winning. So they build and tweak and perfect and sleek and other really nifty sounding verbs. And at the end of it all, they have a finely honed ante-gathering machine. So, if you are stumbling around with your really cool Baki’s Curse deck, make sure you are aware that those decks exist.

There is definitely a dichotomy out there in the Land of Five Color: There are those who bite your head off, and then there are those who sort of rub it real hard and then stick a balloon to it. So before swimming in unknown waters, check for signs of sharks.

Ante, Revisited

I honestly do not understand how much of a psychological barrier ante is for some people. I talked at a PTQ last week to a gentleman about getting into Five Color. Yes, he’s always wanted to, and yes he has the cards, and yes his friends play… But there’s that whole ante monster.

I told him he could play for ghost ante, or pack ante, or coke ante, or whatever people agree to. I told him that most players give easy tradebacks for cards lost in ante. I told him that you can play cards like Jeweled Bird to get an ante back. I told him that, if you win, you don’t need to worry about an ante. I even told him that, should a card mean too much to him, he didn’t have to play it. Still, no dice. I think you could play for ante only to determine who goes first, and there would still be players who would shirk at the idea.

What is up with this? Practically every Magic player who’s been playing for, oh, say a year, has a fist full of rares that they can’t trade, can’t play with, can’t use for anything other than filling up the spaces between the good cards in a binder. And yet, looking through that stack of cards, there are plenty of playable cards. Just not playable in 60 card decks. Old and new, there are serious needs in Five Color for redundancy. When looking for Earthquake-clones, I have played Savage Twister, Starstorm, Fault Line, and even Torrent of Lava. Torrent of Lava, folks. Cards that time has passed raise their collective heads and exclaim,”Choose Me!” (in that cheesy actor voice used in the Might and Magic series when you select pictures for your party)

So, you have these cards out there. Who cars if you occasionally lose one. Heck, I remember one night when a bunch of us sat down to play”Bad Rare” Poker. I remember once when the ante was an Oath of Lieges, Oath of Mages, and Tainted Aether. I’ll see your Darkest Hour, and I’ll raise you a Volrath’s Gardens.

You know you have a closet full of low value rares. Five offers these cards a chance for redemption…. And you would turn it away? You would shun Five Color’s sexy plan? For shame, for shame.

It’s a game the last time I checked folks. Who cares about you losing that random low value rare, anyways?

The Metagame, Revisited

After rereading my article where I discussed the Five Color metagame in brief, I think I focused too much on graveyard removal. You definitely want graveyard removal – don’t get me wrong. But, in focusing on it so much, I think I de-emphasized other considerations. I mentioned fast and furious decks. Decks with hundreds of Savannah Lion-wannabes all standing at the gate, ready for the gate to release and then they chase after this rabbit-looking cloth thing as it races down the track.

In case you didn’t get the analogy, be prepared for decks that come out of the gates as fast as a greyhound. You need speed bumps or mass removal or both. Walls, Spike Feeders, Bottle Gnomes, whatever. Either go greyhound yourself, or include some cards that say,”Whoa, slow down there, partner.”

And then there are decks that win by casting a spell. Maybe that spell is the restricted Replenish. Maybe it is Yawgmoth’s Will. Maybe it is Coalition Victory – I don’t care! It is always handy to have emergency countermagic in the deck. Spite / Malice, those cycling counters, and Arcane Denial all make good choices for their sheer versatility. See the next section for more details.

And then there are decks that artifact/enchantment you out of the game. Combo decks usually rely on some permanent somewhere. You already should be playing zounds of creature kill. Now, play the best, most useful, most easily-cast artifact and enchantment kill that you can. By the way, don’t play too many cards that only take out one or the other; instead make sure most of your cards can either do both, or do something else. Nothing like needing to take out an artifact but only having an Aura Mutation in your hand.

So yeah, permanent removal, graveyard removal, speed bumps, and so forth. You know, be prepared.

Versatility and You

Along with being prepared goes increasing your deck’s versatility. You want as many cards as possible to be Swiss Army Knives. Disenchant might be all and well, but Orim’s Thunder can be used to take out a creature. When versatility comes at the expense of a slightly more expensive cost, you usually want the more versatile card. That can be the exact opposite of regular constructed, so a lot of people going from Type One or Type Two to Five Color can make that mistake without meaning to.

That’s why Expunge is better than Terror. That’s why Spite / Malice is better than most other countermagic. That’s why Thornscape Battlemage is better than practically every other card on the planet.

You want both your offensive and defensive cards to pull double duty. Ideally, you want to find cards that will do either one, depending on the situation. Aether Mutation is an excellent example. Bounce one of your opponent’s creatures, get some Saprolings. But if your opponent doesn’t have much, then bounce on of your own creatures. You can bounce something that has been Treachery-ed or Control Magic-ed. You can also bounce that Thornscape Battlemage and get three tokens. Then play it, pop an artifact and creature with the kickers, and get mad card advantage. Great card, that Aether Mutation, and it can be useful in lots of ways.

When people can play with anything, you must be prepared for anything. And, more importantly, you cannot rely on even seeing a card because it is buried in a stack of cards the size of Manhattan. So, you need to maximize the usefulness of every card, so that you can have a solution or a problem on a more regular basis.

I have played a Five Color deck for months without seeing a particular card. You cannot rely on getting any one card – not unless you build your entire deck around getting it. Keep your options open when choosing cards.

Double the Mana, Double the Fun

I have gotten a few questions about why I chose a double ratio for the color mix; the simple answer is that it works for me. The long answer is that it works for everybody else too. I’ve used it myself from my neophyte days in Five, and it has always worked well for me. Others have had problems with their colors, but when I recommend the double system, it always works out well.

On a related note, my personal Five Color deck does not use that ratio anymore. Instead, I have just about every decent producer of every color I can get my hands on. I also have every dual land I own in the deck (except for my player’s set of Underground Seas in my Type One deck). Finish that up with a couple of Lairs, a few pain lands in key colors, and some basic lands for Land Grants and Krosan Tuskers. I have about a three and a half ratio. I also feel comfortable tossing in Arcanis and Future Sight into a predominantly black and green deck. With my solid mana base, I can playtest any card, irregardless of mana requirements. I used to run my Invoke Prejudice, because it was cool. If you can play an enchantment that costs four blue mana in a black/green deck, you know your mana base is fine.

Threshold and Flashback

I wanted to toss in a couple of thoughts on the two major Odyssey Block abilities. In Five Color, flashback is a really great ability. I mentioned how useful versatility is. Having double the usefulness is just gravy. A nice thick gravy from beef stock like grandma makes. All sorts of flashback is played. Keep in mind some of the more aggressively costed flashback cards when constructing a deck.

While flashback is nice, threshold is just downright crazy. You can pretty much rely on any threshold card as having it. With all of the Contracts From Below, Windfalls, Wheel of Fortunes, Fact or Fictions and other card drawing craziness, graveyards fill up very quickly. Plus, the game can go on for a while. That makes little creatures like Werebear almost a guaranteed beatstick. Mystic Enforcer is one of the best creatures running around.

There are a few cards that I’ve never seen, but I kind of fear. I have yet to see anyone play that Grizzly Fate, but I know when I see it they’ll get grizzlies-a-go-go.

Land and Timmy

There are a few important points to make regarding the sorts of cards that people sometimes play. People will sometimes toss all sorts of craziness into a Five deck. This is a chance for a player to put in that big card they always wanted to play.

Some people play Five to assuage their Inner Timmy. As a result, you can attack their mana base, and then float to victory on the back of some 2/2 Battlemage. Some players really like to have a decent selection of land destruction, like Avalanche Riders, Nightscape Battlemage, and so forth.

And since a lot of players play non-basics, playing your own hate is a key strategy. Price of Progress can simply win games; nothing like an end-of-turn Mystical Tutor for a Price of Progress. You might see the Miner Brothers running around. Also, Blood Moon or Back to Basics could appear. I really like Dust Bowl for control decks. I’ll play them over Wastelands sometimes.

Keeping your opponent under a certain mana point might be very important. In normal sixty-card constructed, if a person has six mana out, they can probably cast any card in their hand. Not so in Five Color. They could have any number of large effects. If you have played your opponent before, then you’ll probably have a heads up about whether they are the sort to play big splashy effects. If not, just beware! You never know when a Searing Wind will knock you off your chair.

My Personal Top Ten Creatures

And to end it all, I thought I would include my personal list of the ten best creatures in Five Color. To get on my list, a creature has to be good in a variety of decks. Sure, Morphling is a fine creature, but you are hardly going to play him in beatdown or something. We are also going to ignore creatures that are restricted. Everybody knows that Academy Rector and Divining Witch are good. My list actually includes an Onslaught creature, too! Anyways, here they are:

Number 10 – Serendib Efreet Our first card is also our oldest. A 3/4 flyer for real cheap that just happens to be in a control color as well. It forms the base for every aggro deck, and makes appearances in a lost of control decks as well. It can be a fast defense or a fast attack. Gotta love the Efreet.

Number 9 – River Boa The Efreet is disadvantaged somewhat by having a bit of a problem playing defense too much. The Boa makes up for that. A two power that is usually unblockable fits into any aggressive deck. A regenerator that will trade for a host of bears fits perfectly into many control decks. Shy of combo, I don’t think that any deck will be disadvantaged by adding a Boa to the mix. It may not be the best card, but it will never be a bad card.

Number 8 – Triskelion The Trisk has seen a resurgence of late, and I’ve seen him in an increasingly larger number of decklists online. He fits into a mono-brown sort of deck, plus he really earns his keep in Reanimator. Control decks like him, and I’ve seen Oath decks use him as one of their three creatures. Probably a poor choice for beatdown, though.

Number 7 – Avalanche Riders Now we are getting to the good stuff! The Riders are often the only way many decks have to get rid of a troublesome land. They provide a tutor target for a wayward Library of Alexandria, and they can always be useful, unlike Stone Rain and such. It’s splashable, and often two points to the head or a Fog as a blocker, plus it can take out any land. Like I said, the good stuff.

Number 6 – Mishra’s Factory Well, okay- it’s not a creature. But nobody plays it except as a creature, so it counts. So do Call of the Herd and Roar of the Wurm. The Factory slides into just about any deck, and I am amazing by the number of decklists that include it. It might be the only card on this list that is a little overplayed. I’ve seen them when Faerie Conclave, Treetop Village, or Nantuko Monastery would have been a better choice. Still, the Factory is the standard.

Number 5 – Wall of Blossoms When you first started playing Magic, did you think walls were good? Have you ever thought of walls as anything other than chaff? And yet, here we have the Best Wall Ever getting placed above Factory – and making a list where Morphling, Spiritmonger, and Blastoderm didn’t. Wall of Blossoms is just that good. Beatdown probably doesn’t want them, but I’ve seen them in combo decks regularly, to stem the tide while looking for the pieces. Combo decks sometimes play ten or twenty creatures tops, and sometimes none at all – but Wall of Blossoms is so good that it often makes that kind of cut. Good wall.

Number 4 – Masticore It was a real debate for me between this card and number three. Which should be better? I ultimately decided to go with the new kid on the block. Plus, this is the most expensive card on the list, and that might knock it for some people out there. Still, it is my list, and for my money, there is no beatdown creature out there, and there are few control creatures better either.

Number 3 – Krosan Tusker The problem with the Tusker is that I doubt you see them played as a Beast more than, oh, say, a third of the time. Other times, they are just a cheaper green Inspiration. That ability may be golden in 60 card Magic; it’s uranium in Five Color. I just can’t say enough about the Tusker. Maybe I should just say Best Beast Ever.

Number 2 – Flametongue Kavu Almost number one… Almost. What the Flametongue does, no creature does better. Four to a critter? Few creatures will survive. Then a four power body to serve up some Kavu love. Plus, his abilities work so well together. Have a blocker? Let’s clear him out and then swing. The FTK honestly fits in so many decks, it’s crazy.

Number 1 – Thornscape Battlemage It can do anything except clean your dishes. The Thornscape B-Mage is almost able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. Your hallowed trinity: Thornscape the Creature, Thornscape the Bear Killer, and Thornscape the Holy Artifact Muncher. It’s much easier to get the trifecta than you might think.

And that’s pretty much it for today’s lessons. Thanks a bunch for reading this far… Or skipping everything in hope that there is some conclusion – when, in fact, there is not. No tidy and succinct little conclusion for today’s bit of randomness. My Tenth Grade English Teacher would kill me.

Until later,

Abe Sargent