Feature Article – Woltereck on Five-Color Control

States is coming!
Tuesday, November 4th – The State Championships are fast approaching, and our metagame options are shaping up nicely. Chris Woltereck, one of the stronger proponents of Five-Color Control and the winner of the recent StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open, shares his latest thoughts on the archetype, and brings us a comprehensive primer on how to defeat the deck he feels will be most popular come States – White Weenie. He also recounts a round-by-round report from the SCG $5K…

After my high finish in the recent StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open, I wanted to take the time to tell you why Five-Color Control is one of the most competitive decks in the current Standard environment. In doing so, I’ll be giving out some sideboard and maindeck card selection choices for the upcoming State Championships.

I have been playing Five-Color Control since Pro Tour: Hollywood, when I spent my Day 2 in a PTQ with a Rage Forger deck. Upset with its performance, and with any aggressive deck’s paths to victory in general, I secretly swore to myself that I would never play mindless aggro again. Though I have beat down in the past, I prefer the control decks in general. Playing aggressive decks doesn’t do it for me, and now Standard is an environment in which a slow control deck can thrive.

I have had several respectable finishes with Five-Color Control, including a Top 2 of a PTQ, a Cruise Qualifier, the above-mentioned StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open, and a 23rd place finish in Grand Prix: Rimini.

This was my most recent Five-Color Control build:

I feel I was able to perform well by playing a wide variety of cards, most of which were dependant on the metagame. With Five-Color Control, you have so many options, and you are never a huge underdog to any deck you will encounter. Practice makes perfect, as always. I have also been lucky enough to play a few games versus every viable deck you can currently imagine, so I never really get surprised and thus I always have some sort of game plan. This goes a long way when you are playing Five-Color Control.

Gerry Thompson provided me with a lot of help and abstract thinking over the last few months. Gerry has worked with my builds quite extensively over the last few weeks, although he hates Cruel Ultimatum so much for reasons he has already voiced.

I don’t know how difficult it is to build a model ship inside a tiny bottle… even so, it’s probably easier to build such a ship and then find a very small sailor to man it than to get Gerry to like Cruel Ultimatum. I personally enjoy the card’s versatility; I see it as extreme multi-mode Command. Lifegain, Reach, Draw, Discard, and the ability to get back a threat all come into play at some point during the tournament. I like Primal Command, I see this as Version 2.0.

Gerry Thompson and Patrick Chapin have been over this deck and strategy with a microscope for quite some time now. In Italy, Chapin was all over Five-Color Control, and answered a lot of questions for me involving Block mirror Five-Color Control builds. They know what they are talking about, so I take their card evaluations very seriously.

I normally do not put a lot of playtesting hours in, though I ended up playtesting multiple Five-Color Control builds quite a lot. When helping other StarCityGames.com players prepare for tournaments, I ended up playing the deck for a very long time. I became addicted. I could not stop drawing cards, so I will probably play this until it rotates out of Standard, or until I start to dream about Mulldrifters, whichever comes first. I have already tried crazy cards like Wild Ricochet in Block Constructed versions of the deck. I’ve also tried four out of the five Commands, although I do not recommend this. I have tried about every spell under the sun in this strategy. When you run Five-Color Control, you can play any spell that you feel you need to win in any given metagame. It is really remarkable that you can accomplish any game plan you want. To me, it is the best deck, and it will be hard to persuade me otherwise.

So, what do you want to accomplish?

Why not play a deck that is versatile enough to deal with anything your opponent plays (or could play) against you? Why not play a deck that gives you the mental edge before you’ve even drawn your opening seven?

With Five-Color Control, you will not find yourself playing off the top of your deck to remain in the tournament very often.

Do you want to win States? What is the best strategy for such success? Theoretically, you can play an extremely powerful but inconsistent deck and try to blow through the swiss… but if you get paired against a skilled player running Five-Color Control, the odds are they can stop you cold.

Let’s take a look at the States metagame. We know the popular and powerful strategies, and I’d break them down as follows: Five-Color Control, White Weenie, and Faeries. These are the three strongest decks and strategies in the current Standard metagame, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The other decks in contention don’t throw anything significantly different at you that cannot be handled.

Merfolk plays similar to both Faeries and White Weenie: they swarm the board, or they resolve a creature and defend it with countermagic. Doran or Elves will also play creatures and use disruption, this time via Thoughtseize or Mind Shatter rather than countermagic. They can also apply a three-plus power attacking creature on turn 3, similar to White Weenie. Demigod Red is basically an aggressive deck with weaker creatures and direct damage. Faeries, Merfolk, and Reveillark all play a variety of countermagic. Lark reintroduces the graveyard relevance again in Standard. Although tools exist to deal with graveyards, I still chose to ignore it, dedicating one-and-a-half sideboard slots to the matchup.

So the formula is this: control the creatures on the board, don’t lose your head, and be ready for the counter/attrition war. If we follow those basic strategies, we can construct our decks to give us a strategic advantage against almost everything. We can learn what game plans we need to implement against every deck, and play with those strategies in mind.

What is the best card to cast to help you win your State Championships? Wrath of God. Casting Wrath of God will help you get there, as Kithkin will be one of the top two deck archetypes by number that you see throughout the tournament. If we take a look at the current environment, we can break such aggressive strategies into two main plans of attacking. Kithkin is the aggressive deck to beat, with Mono Red (Demigod or a similar build) the second-best aggressive deck that gives up card quality for direct damage. If you want to succeed during the next few months of Standard, you need to know everything about beating the aggressive decks.

Faeries will exist until the Lorwyn rotates. They are very beatable, but they’re not as easy to beat as the aggro decks. Let them try to deal with all the Kithkin, then wipe up what is left of them and go about your business.

I think the best way to win States is to have answers to everything you face, while having a great matchup against Kithkin, since you will play it, and you may play it more often than you currently expect. Of course, you cannot know the answers to the problems in the metagame until you know the questions.

I think the biggest mistake people make is not playing and testing with the deck they want to beat. How many Kithkin players are out there right now are playtesting with the Five-Color Control deck? Sure, they play against it, but they never know how it feels from the other side of the table. I hate Faeries, but I have played it versus Five-Color Control many times. What if your threat really isn’t a threat? Maybe they had no answers for a Mons’s Goblin Raiders at any given time. What if they are trying so hard just not to laugh at your board position, recognizing you’re playing suboptimal spells against them? You will never know unless you experience things from their perspective too.

Threats and Bets

Let’s take a look at the strategies employed by White Weenie in their quest to bring down the Five-Color Control machine…

First: did they play a one-drop?

Making creature drops on turns 1 and 2 is exactly what they are aiming to do. This is obviously more effective on the play than the draw. It is the difference between three to five damage and losing to a turn 3 Firespout. Thus, we need to deal with their optimal draw the best we can. If they come out of the gates slowly, you do not have much to worry about, as you will be able to win in different ways.

Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender forces you to consider your build and how much you rely on Red sweepers. I do not feel the need to run very many Red sweepers, I also prefer Pyroclasm to Firespout.

All the aggressive decks of note run Figure of Destiny. This card alone is a significant threat to Wrath away. This is where the split comes… you need to Wrath it, as sometimes you can’t Firespout it. Condemn goes a long way here. Sometimes I take two damage on turn 2 just so I can essentially get a free turn when they activate Figure to 4/4 before I Condemn it away.

Goldmeadow Stalwart or Arkasan Squire are much more threatening than a Forge-Tender… and the Arkasan Squire is better that the Stalwart in general.

The good thing is that most decks only seem to run a maximum of ten one-drops, and in multiples they are actually bad. Exposing two Figures to a Wrath is bad, and Stalwart and Tender alone are not a significant threat.

The two-drops are Knight of Meadowgrain, Wizened Cenn, and Figure of Destiny essentially takes up your second turn or is joined by more silly one-mana creatures.

It is obvious we need to sweep them early if they come out of the gates firing. Remember, even their best draw cannot kill you before you play Wrath of God (excluding Mirrorweave shenanigans, although that card is not as popular as it once was). The main issue is that other threats require a sweeper too: Cloudgoat Ranger and Spectral Procession.

Some decks include Stillmoon Cavalier, which is slow and cannot kill quickly; or Oversoul of Dusk, which spends most of its time on the bottom of their owner’s library via Condemn. All their threats have one use: attacking. Brute force is such a limited angle of attack, and this means that decks with such tunnel vision can be beaten again and again by control decks.

Their removal is Unmake or Oblivion Ring, with Unmake being better against Kitchen Finks, Cryptic Command, and Nucklavee.

Planeswalkers, however, are serious threats. Ajani Goldmane is worse than Elspeth, which is worse than Ajani Vengeant. All of them are still dangerous, but at the same time they can be easily dealt with. Sometimes they will be of some use to your opponent before you can bounce/deal with them.

You have to survive the early game in a good enough position that you do not rely too heavily on your blocking creatures, to make sure you do not die to spot removal. After that point, is it only a matter of time until you win, and you pass the time by thinking of creative ways to kill planeswalkers and asking your opponents why Kithkin have scrunchy faces. (They don’t know.)

Almost every card in a Five-Color Control maindeck is great against Kithkin. At the very least, each card serves a purpose and is not completely dead.

Wrath of God – This is the best possible card to have against them. By getting significant card advantage through Wrath, this alone is often enough to maintain some form of control for the rest of the game.

Firespout, Pyroclasm, Jund Charm, and other Red Sweepers – Some builds have maindeck Forge-Tenders, so it makes sweeping difficult sometimes. You can always use the sweeper to kill the Tender, forcing them to sacrifice it. Pyroclasm offers a unique element of a turn 2 sweep, which will save you three to five life. Jund Charm is similar, but more difficult to cast on turn 3, so I would not count on that as a reliable turn 3 play. With White Weenie often boarding in Reveillarks, you can remove their graveyard if necessary.

Bant Charm — Removal that kills Forge-Tender and counters Unmake. This is pretty important, since spot removal can be key. Being able to protect your creatures from Unmake is also an important element, because most of your creatures are far better than theirs, and they can win the game for you if they remain in play.

Remove Soul — Counters the majority of threats, and it’s one of the few two-mana spells that allow you take the wind out of the White Kithkin sails! It’s essentially a Counterspell, and with five or six mana you can sweep them with counter backup to deal with their next threat, Procession and Planeswalkers excluded.

Esper Charm — Never dead game 1, as it removes Oblivion Ring and can be used as a discard effect as they generally play slowly to avoid a Wrath effect, sandbagging Cloudgoat Rangers in their hand. Another sweeper search effect takes you to eight card draw options with four Mulldrifters, excluding the replacement effect of Cryptic Command.

Kitchen Finks – This card is obviously good against them, providing you with life, a chump blocker, or the always amazing two-for-one trade. Being able to commit creatures to a board, and still offer Wrath gives you a unique element versus aggro strategies.

Cryptic Command – Everyone knows about this, but Kithkin has nothing they can do but get destroyed by this card. Some decks will include a Red splash for Guttural Response, but it’s a moot point. The best uses for this seem to be to tap down their attackers in an unfavorable board position, tap down blockers for a Cloudthresher kill, or bounce a resolved Planeswalker.

Condemn — This card shines against aggressive decks in general. It allows you to remove attackers when your hand consists of mostly Vivid lands. The best part of this card is the cheap casting cost, allowing you to play two spells early on in the game when most of the time you are essentially working under Rule of Law, limited to playing one spell a turn until you build up your mana.

Cloudthresher — Besides sweeping Procession tokens, it allows you to play the largest creature on the board at your convenience. Whether I’m flashing in and killing an attacker, or making a threat that can end the game, I am always happy with this card.

Mulldrifter — This is never bad, and it’s often is used to kill planeswalkers or start your offense once you have control. More card draw for sweepers is never a bad thing.

Negate – Not as good as Remove Soul, but I run fewer copies overall, and it can stop their removal spell or planeswalkers. It is relevant when you draw it, though you will have to find a good spot to play it.

Nucklavee – Allows you to lock Kithkin cold, giving them very few outs other than Unmake, which you can counter.

Cruel Ultimatum — This is similar to taking candy from a small infant, or shooting fish in a barrel with a Gatling gun (with dynamite on the bottom just in case you miss). It is so much fun, and they can do absolutely nothing about it.

With such a promising maindeck, it’s always going to be hard just to find room to sideboard cards in. We’ll have to remove good cards for amazing cards. In come more sweepers and removal. Kithkin will be the most popular deck at States, believe me. It’s cheap, easy to build, easy to play, and it was one of the most popular decks in the last Block Constructed format, so people have the cards already.


Versus Traditional Kithkin:

+1 Condemn, +1 Firespout, +1 Oona, +1 Jund Charm, +1 Plumeveil, +1 Cloudthresher

-1 Negate, -4 Esper Charm, — 1 Bant Charm

If they are playing Oblivion Ring:

+1 Condemn, +1 Firespout, +1 Plumeveil, +1 Cloudthresher

-1 Negate, — 2 Bant Charm, — 1 Esper Charm

Bear in mind not that all sideboard plans are set in stone, as they should change with the particular threats you see in the Kithkin player’s deck. I have brought in Resounding Thunder in to deal with Planeswalkers before. You need to best identify what your opponent is trying to do… this often is as simple as this: Does he play around Wrath of God or not?

Most decks should board out Forge Tenders against you, but if they are stubborn you may want to keep some number of Bant Charms in, just for versatility and to keep all your read sweepers active.

I don’t know about you, but when my opponent drops a Plains, I have to take a second to calm myself down since I am so excited about playing against Kithkin. In Block Constructed it was a little different, because in Block Constructed we did not have Wrath of God or Cruel Ultimatum.

If you are still unsure about the matchup, feel free to add more of the above cards to your sideboard, or just add some Hallowed Burials or Infests. Plumeveil is actually one of the best cards against them, but I just cannot justify more board space for Kithkin, so the cards I use have to be versatile in other matchups.

Bonus $5k Tournament Report

I made some small changes to the deck after the Cruise Qualifier, jumped in the car with my roommate Ken Adams, and I was ready to battle.

My gameplan against Mono Red was “people really don’t lose to Red decks.” This statement would come back to bite me.

Round 1 – Mono Red

Game 1: My hand was Condemn, Vivid Meadow, Reflecting Pool, 2 Kitchen Finks, Wrath, and Mulldrifter. I was on the draw, and keeping (of course, not knowing what my opponent was playing). When he played a Mountain and made a Figure of Destiny, I got excited. I Condemned a Figure, and never drew a third land.



+1 Condemn, +1 Firespout, +1 Oona, +1 Faerie Macabre (for Hell’s Thunder)
-4 Esper Charm

Sometimes my sideboarding plans vary for this match, If they’re playing Ashenmoor Gouger and/or Boggart Ram-Gang, Pyroclasm and Jund Charm are weaker, but if they play Stigma Lasher or Vexing Shusher then things change. I will sometimes board in a couple of Resounding Thunders if I am worried about Mutavault or Ram Gang.

Game 2: I was on the play, with Vivid Creek, Vivid Meadow, 2 Mulldrifter, Wrath of God, and Kitchen Finks. I never drew another land, and died. I was not really upset, as these things happen.

While being smashed, I also learned that you cannot counter Unearth. With the remaining 53 minutes of the round to go, I check out what is being played at the other tables. It’s mostly Mono Red, Kithkin, and Five-Color Control.

Lose 0-2 (0-1)

Round 2 — The Mirror

My opponent drew in the mirror match for round 1, so I knew I would have to hurry him along.

I had control game 1, with an amazing six-card hand of two Cryptics, Remove Soul, Ultimatum, and other goodies. Since my opponent had zero cards in hand, I cast Mulldrifter… and he immediately drew his singleton Mind Shatter. I discarded seven cards, then he followed up with double Mulldrifter, and I eventually lost seven turns later. Lesson learned, grind it out.

Game 2 was not close, and with the round having only eight minutes left, I go up to four Cloudthreshers. The game was a beating, and I won in six minutes.

Win 2-1 (1-1)

Round 3 – Reanimator with Dragons

My opponent never got anything going, but I always had Condemn versus Hellkite Overlord just in case. He was having trouble finding a discard outlet, so I lent a hand via Cruel Ultimatum. He struggled on his lands, and was unable to apply pressure.

Win 2-0 (2-1)

Round 4 – Mono Red

I’m starting to wish I was wearing a (Runed) Halo…

The games against Red are easy to win, but if you take too long to kill them, they start to come back. Locking down a specific card with Runed Halo really helps your mid-game plans. Thankfully, everything went to plan and I won pretty quickly.

Win 2-0 (3-1)

Round 5 – Mono Red

Jason Drum was my opponent here. He’s a very good player from North Carolina, as well as a stand up guy. He took me down game 1, dropping me to zero perfectly when I was one turn away from victory.

Game 2 involved the all-star Plumeveil, which came down in combat. It was Incinerated and Shard Volleyed, giving me a three-for-one, but Jason’s on-board threat was the only gas he had, so I agreed with his play. I untapped and Wrathed, and was able to finish the game from there.

Game 3 was perhaps one of the most bizarre games I played during the tournament. Jason started off with a pair of Ashenmoor Gougers, and I began with two Finks. Zero Blocks were declared the entire game. We traded damage until the final turn, in which he activated his Ghitu Encampment, and I tapped down his army, bouncing his Gouger. He tried to Flame Javelin a Kitchen Finks to stay alive, but I had Negate and evoked a Cloudthresher to put him to zero. I ended the match at two life.

Win 2-1 (4-1)

Round 6 — Mono Red

I am sick of Mountains at this point. I wish I had some extra goodies in my board to manage the Red menace.

Game 1: I was ahead the whole time and won rather easily.

Game 2: I started with a Condemn on Vexing Shusher. My opponent stuck on two lands for a long, long time. In fact, at one point during the game, I had thirteen lands to his two. My hand was all creature removal, and my double Finks were Magma Sprayed. He discarded Demigods, so I knew my future. I had the Wrath, but no Cryptics. When he got to five land, the best play I had was Remove Soul on one Demigod, Bant Charm another, and take five damage to go to four life, I untapped and Wrathed….it wasn’t optimal, as I still needed a threat to finish. I didn’t have one, and died soon after.

Game 3 involved me taking four damage from a Figure of Destiny, dropping me to fourteen life with Plumeveil in my hand. He had a Ghitu Encampment, so I was setting up the turn 5 Plumeveil / Negate combo. He attacked with both, and the incoming Plumeveil blocked the manland. He stacked damage and tried to Magma Spray, as I expected. I Negated that, and I wrapped up the game shortly after with a Wrath into Oona (which I had been holding).

Win 2-1 (5-1)

Round 7 — Kithkin, by Daniel (2nd place)

Game 1: My opponent tried as hard as he could to lose the game to Wrath of God, by playing out unnecessary extra threats, including double Forge Tender. I could not find a Wrath until turn 11. He was still unable to kill me despite of all this. I built to ten lands, and had a soft Cryptic lock with Nucklavee. He was about to concede before remembering he was playing Unmake. I built to fourteen lands, then proceeded to lose to Unmake the turn before I drew Cryptic Command, which is the turn after he remembered his outs.

Game 2 was not very close. I had him Ultimatum locked, never dropping below 10 life. I took too long breaking his spirit, so in the end I was playing extremely quickly because we had about seven minutes to play game 3 after the mammoth first battle.

Game 3 was a blowout in my favor. I killed him on turn 8 in about four minutes, with double Finks and a Cloudthresher.

Win 2-1 (6-1)

Round 8 – Faeries

The Fae came out to play in the last round, and with my timely round 1 loss, my breakers were terrible. Still haunted by my finals defeat in the Cruise Tournament, I shuffled up.

Game 1: He started out with no Bitterblossom, so I was under no pressure. I drew some cards via Esper Charm, but I always kept a Charm back in case he drew the two-mana guy-spewing enchantment. I was in control this entire game, since my opponent had no Bitterblossom or manlands.

Game 2: He came out of the gates with a Bitterblossom, and dropped Scion into Mistbind Clique. I did my thing, but I was unable to come back after he dropped a Loxodon Warhammer, gaining six life and negating my game plan of burning him out.

Game 3: He drew three Bitterblossoms. I Charmed the first before he could untap. Then another came down, and I dropped a Kitchen Finks. He played yet another Bitterblossom and Spellstuttered my next spell. I was able to cast Jund Charm during his upkeep, drawing out a counter. I was taking damage, but I untapped and cast Pyroclasm. I had Cloudthresher and Resounding Thunder in my hand all game, so I knew I was burning him out. I Cloudthresher with seven lands in play, which he stole with Sower shortly after. I then played my eighth land, and Resounding Thunder him out.

My Fae opponent played a very good match against me, and forced me into tough situations to win my Top 8 berth. Afterwards I found out that, for some reason, he did not bring in Thoughtseize. Though it’s a powerful spell against me, the extra two damage always helps my cause, so I shouldn’t be surprised (I guess).

Win 2-1 (7-1)

Quarterfinals – Reveillark

My opponent led with a Vivid land, making me think I was playing the mirror, I could either play my 2nd Vivid land and my Reflecting Pool on the third turn, making sure I can cast Kitchen Finks or Mulldrifter, or I could be risky and play the Pool and sit on Remove Soul, since he is going to hit three mana before me, and I wanted to Remove Soul his Finks. I decided to play it safe, since I only had 3 lands, and I might need to evoke Mulldrifter in order to keep the land coming. I played my Vivid and say go… and he dropped Doran, the Siege Tower.


I was back-peddling, since I did not have a Wrath in hand, so I dropped Kitchen Finks to buy time. My opponent then dropped Gaddock Teeg.

“This is not going well,” I thought.

I could still win the game at this stage… it’d just take some leg work.

I drew my Wrath of God, but I needed to Charm his Teeg. At the end of his turn I cast Bant Charm, which is met by his own Bant Charm. I did have my last Bant Charm in my hand, but I knew I could not expose it to countermagic. I dropped to seven before I set up killing his Teeg, untapping, casting Wrath, and having Cryptic mana up. I could not have been in this position without Kitchen Finks keeping me in the game. I won shortly after.

I was Thoughtseized / Reveillarked right out of game 2, though I stayed alive for over 15 turns.

At the beginning of the Top 8, an announcement was made stating that if the 60 minute rounds were not complete, they would go to sudden death. I bring in Resounding Thunder anyway, as another Gaddock Teeg answer, and it was obvious he would not attack into Condemn. By turn 6 we had traded off resources and were essentially topdecking, since he has cast Thoughtseize on me three times. I was ahead on life, when I made the decision to play out my single Faerie Macabre. I hit him for four, then he drew a Reveillark. I was able to trade two for four damage for a turn, until he drew another Reveillark. Not to be outdone, Mulldrifter came to my rescue, bringing me a Cloudthresher. I put my head into my hands and passed the turn. He attacked with both of his Reveilllarks… he had a single Mulldrifter as a target, and this is exactly what I wanted him to do. I blocked with my Faerie Macabre and Mulldrifter, and tossed them in the yard. He said go, and I cast Cloudthresher. He took two more damage, and paused when I pointed to his two Reveilllarks with damage on them. He fetched back his Mulldrifter, which had to chump block my Cloudthesher… then I dropped a Kitchen Finks with a Cryptic Command in hand, and I was off to the semifinals!

I heard the Kithkin decks in the Top 8 were winning, which was good… I was rooting for them!

Semifinals – Backlash Kithkin

This is a really good matchup for me. For a start, it is slower than normal Kithkin. Secondly, Ken Adams, Marsh Usary, and I built the deck, so I knew it inside and out.

Game 1 included Wrath of God. I was so far ahead and I had so many Cryptic Commands that I asked my opponent if he wanted to go to Game 2. I was 100% certain I boarded out 2 Esper Charms, I kept a hand of double charm, drew into another. I cast 0 counters and 0 creatures and lost looking silly. Game 3 I Pyroclasm his figure, Condemn 2 Oversoul of Dusk with thresher in hand, I hold thresher, he plays procession, I thresher, the game was over pretty quick.

Serves him right, as he knocked me out of the last $5k…

Finals – Daniel with Kithkin

I am somewhat concerned that I can’t remember how I boarded last round; fatigue has started to set in. I had around 4 hours of sleep in the previous 40 hours. I was rooting for him to win his semifinal, since I wanted an easy matchup, and I did not want to play Alex with Fae. Even though I won this match in the swiss, I figured a split was fine. Everyone would be happy. I asked for the points, as he wanted to drop. In hindsight I should have played, even though I was tired.

Thanks for reading, and good luck at States!