I have been playing online for a little while, now, and my collection is growing. I love Constructed formats, and have built decks for Online Standard, Extended, Singleton, and so forth. Now I want to try the big format: Prismatic. Prismatic is the online equivalent to 5-Color – but the difference between the virtual and real life formats is almost as great as the difference between online porn and real-life contact. No Contract from Below, no Restocking Time Walk and Recall… not even turn 1 land, Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone.
It’s just not the same. But it’s good enough if you can’t get the real thing.
Why settle for Prismatic? For one thing, you can almost always get a Prismatic game in the MODO casual Constructed room. For another, you don’t have to shuffle your deck, and shuffling a 250-card paper deck is not trivial.
Prismatic requires decks of at least 250 cards with twenty cards of each color. Since I only own about 2,500 cards (nearly all commons), that means that one in ten of my cards is going in the deck. That is going to stretch things a bit, but it does make it interesting. I do have a chance, at least, since the new sets have a lot of good land fetchers and mana smoothers as commons. I also have a lot of experience with real life 5-Color, but this format does not let me play fourteen Armageddon effects to go with my Terravores – not that I have any online Terravores.
Online Prismatic will be a bit different.
I should mention that online Prismatic does have its own set of banned cards. You cannot play Battle of Wits, Bribery, Bringer of the Black Dawn, Buried Alive, Burning Wish, Cunning Wish, Diabolic Tutor, Eladamri’s Call, Entomb, Fabricate, Gifts Ungiven, Insidious Dreams, Living Wish, Quiet Speculation, Skullclamp, Sterling Grove, Tooth and Nail, or Wild Research. It also has a special mulligan rule, which lets you mulligan without losing a card if you have zero, one, six, or seven lands in hand.
In any 250-card deck, the first issue is getting the mana. In real life 5-Color, dual lands and fetch lands make that easy. In online, the dual lands don’t exist and the fetchlands are out of my price range for now. I don’t own the Cities of Brass, Tendo Ice Bridges, and so forth to help. I will have to make do with commons. That means that I am going to have to play extra forests and play a lot of green mana fixers.
I also want to play land cyclers, since can both dodge color screw and, eventually, beat. Now this is an article on MODO on the cheap, but those qualify. I found my plains-, mountain-, and islandcyclers in some trade bots selling thirty-two cards for a ticket. Twisted Abominations are harder to find, and Elvish Aberrations are uncommons, so a bit more pricey, but they are not too bad. Krosan Tuskers are cheap – play four if you have enough green.
Morph is another method of avoiding color screw. Even playing just basic lands, you can expect to hit three mana – but maybe not three mana of a particular color. Morph is an Australian term meaning, roughly, "Three lands? No worries, mate." Sometimes even the cheap, common morphs can have a somewhat useful ability -like "bounce your dude," "Terror something," or just "Coercion you for a removal spell because you thought this was Exalted Angel."
The morph that I recommend most highly – and the one that I play in my real-life 5-Color deck – is Nantuko Vigilante. He costs almost nothing to buy online, he beats for three, and he doubles as a Naturalize. I play four, and I highly recommend anyone else playing cheap Prismatic does so as well.
A Prismatic deck will run typically run 90-95 lands with a lot of land fetchers and mana accelerators. Lands that tap for many colors of mana are great… if you have some. I own two Mirrodin’s Cores, and am drafting MDF once a week or so, so I expect to have four sometime. I may get Cities and Ice Bridges sometime, but I don’t expect to have any fetchlands or even Invasion dragon lairs anytime soon. That means I have to play four Wayfarer’s Baubles and some green mana acceleration, and slant my land counts to make sure I get Forests early. I also play four Darksteel Ingots, because all five colors of mana for the cost of a morph is fine by me.
I bought a complete playset of Onslaught block commons, so I can run four of each cycling land. They are slower than basics – but since I try to avoid any cards with double colored mana costs, I am more than happy to cycle them whenever I can.
If you have Birds of Paradise, you run them. I own one and it is in my deck. After Birds, Sakura-Tribe Elders are obvious and easily acquired, along with Kodama’s Reach. I already mentioned Krosan Tusker, and even cards like Far Wanderings and Explosive Vegetation might be worth considering. If you own Solemn Simulacrums (I don’t), play them. Generally, I like beatdown in a budget deck, so I want my mana fixers to pull a land and beat or to pull two lands, so I don’t value Rampant Growth, Orochi Leafcaller, or the Talismans much – but they are options. If you are really short on cards, you can also play some Myr as cheap mana fixers and acceleration.
Mirrodin block really helped the format, since it provides a lot of cheap artifacts to fill in holes and fix mana. Equipment is a boon since even a Bonesplitter can turn the cheap, single colored mana creatures, like Kami of the Ancient Law, into powerful beaters. If you own an Umezawa’s Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice, you want to play them. If not, play Bone Splitters and No-Dachi. Loxodon Warhammer is fun, although a bit too expensive to be really competitive.
Mirrodin block also brought us the sunburst mechanic. Many of these are playable, especially if you have decent mana fixers. The best of these are Skyreach Manta and Etched Oracle. Skyreach Manta is generally at least a 4/4 flier, and has appeared as a 5/5 flier on turn 4, which generally wins the game. Etched Oracle is even better. It almost invariably shows up as a 4/4, and it draws cards. Etched Oracle is a four-of in Prismatic decks, and was in the 5-Color deck that won the last 5-Color worlds. It is simply a great Prismatic card.
I want to talk about colors for a few minutes, but first some general observations. First, Prismatic can be brutal, with decks running powerful creatures, removal, board sweepers like Akroma’s Vengeance and Pernicious Deed, and other great cards. You can expect to face really good decks at times – so you need to decide on how your deck will win, then stick to that theme.
If the theme is “fast beatdown,” then play only cheap creatures that have power equal to or greater than their casting cost, evasion where possible, and play equipment like Grafted Wargear and Mask of Memory (cheap card drawing). If your theme is “winning with a big, powerful creature” (like Meloku or Psychatog), then build your deck with enough mana ramping, board control elements, and methods of getting your power, like Time of Need.
Don’t mix and match: if your goal is fast beats, then don’t throw in a few six- to eight-mana monsters; otherwise you may stall early with fatties in hand, then start drawing 2/1s in the late game, when they are useless facing off against Nagao, Bound by Honor or Night of Souls’ Betrayal.
Secondly, since budget decks often have mana issues, don’t increase the problems by running cards with multiple colored mana in the casting cost, if you can possibly help it. Fangren Firstborn is a nice card in mono-green beatdown, but not in Prismatic.
In a budget Prismatic deck, you want to stay aggressive. Your cards should either beat, solve serious problems and help beat, or provide serious combat tricks. You really don’t want to run lifegain here, or Fog effects, or Standing Troops, or Ghostly Prison. The odds are very good that you will be the beatdown, and the decks with better/more expensive cards will be the control decks. For that reason, if I am pulling cards from the current sets, I like to fill my white slots with cards like Nagao and Kitsune Blademaster (serious beatdown) and Kami of the Ancient Law (beatdown and enchantment kill). I have also run Kabuto Moth, since it is one white combat trick worth playing.
From the older sets, I have hunted up four plainscyclers – Noble Templars – because they beat acceptably well and fix mana very nicely. Obviously Eternal Dragons would be better, but you take what you can get.
I am playing a couple of Invasion cards. I bought a mix of IPA commons in the auction, including a playset of Dismantling Blows. D Blow is an excellent utility card, often killing a critical problem card and drawing two. Orim’s Thunder is actually better in aggressive 5-Color, since it can eliminate a problem and a blocker – but I’ll take what I can get.
Blue is the color of card drawing, counters, and fliers. All three can be useful.
Card drawing is always good. The best in-print commons are probably Merfolk Looter clones (like Thought Courier) and Inspiration. Neither are great. The Looter can beat, weakly, and Inspiration only draws two cards. Concentrate would be better, but it costs double blue. Thieving Magpie is nice, if you have some. The best uncommon card drawer for Prismatic is probably Allied Strategies, but IPA cards are not cheap.
Blue is also the color of counters, but budget decks probably cannot build around counters, since most would need double blue quickly. Single-blue counters include Mana Leak, Memory Lapse, and Evasive Action – and only Evasive Action is something I would consider playing in an aggro deck. Since Evasive Action is another IPA card, I don’t foresee getting them anytime soon.
Finally, blue is the color of fliers and evasion creatures. The best in-print common fliers are probably Shimmering Glasskite (which is a pain to remove) and cards like Aven Fisher (evasion and a card when it dies.) The one out-of-print flier I play is Wormfang Drake – bought from a 32 cards for a TIX trade. The drake not only is cheap (3/4 for 2U) and hits hard, but it can also provide some protection against Wrath of God effects. Its drawback can be painful (in response, Rend your last creature) – but when it works, it’s solid. That’s about all you can expect for a budget card.
Black is the color of tutors, removal, fear and graveyards. All can be useful.
In real life 5-Color, tutors are restricted. In online play, most are banned. The few legal and useful tutors, like Tainted Pact, are nice if you have them. Say it with me – I don’t.
The best affordable removal in Prismatic may be Rend Flesh, which kills most everything being played. Admittedly, Chainer’s Edict might be better overall – but Rend Flesh doesn’t cost $5, either. Many other black removal cards are playable, but the one worth mentioning is Skinthinner, which has morph and doubles as quick beats. It isn’t Bane of the Living, but it is cheap.
If your deck is all about quick beats or evasion creatures like Canyon Wildcat, you could also add some Ninjas. I have a few Okiba-Gang Shinobi in my deck, and a couple of Throatslitters. Evasion creatures, especially land walkers, can form the basis of a playable Prismatic deck. I have a pair of Bog Wraiths, and they are in my deck. Landwalkers and Ninja are a nice combo.
Finally, graveyard recursion is often useful. Gravedigger is okay, especially if you have larger creatures or landcyclers, but Zombify or Nezumi Graverobber are generally better. The Graverobber is best, because it can stop opponents from recurring cards like Cabal Therapy, or using Eternal Witness. Skullsnatcher can do the same for fewer bucks, but not quite as elegantly.
Red is the color of burn, pingers, and hasty creatures. Burn is quite powerful, and haste can be. Pingers are less useful, but some have their places.
I have rarely been able to build a budget deck that is fast enough to want one-mana burn spells like Shock. Instead, I want more damage, like Volcanic Hammer, Lightning Blast, or even Pyrotechnics, or spells that have other benefits, like Magma Jet. Tribal Flames is the best Prismatic burn, and the card is relatively cheap to buy.
Red’s common beatdown creatures are not amazing. Sokenzan Bruisers and Canyon Wildcats are mountain-walkers with just one red in the casting cost, and opponents are likely to play mountains. Avarax is okay, if you have a bit of money to spare so you can get four, and if your mana base can handle the double red. Godo can be pretty good, if you own any useful equipment and play other Samurai. Godo is, at the least, cheap to obtain, and the single red in the mana cost is good.
Another red common worth trying, if you play a lot of equipment, is Spikeshot Goblin. On his own he is only marginal, but with a Bonesplitter, he becomes a threat. Spikey is not Psychatog or even Flametongue Kavu, but both he and Bonesplitter are commons.
If you can spare a couple TIX, however, get Arc-Sloggers. Arc-Slogger is insane with 250 card decks, where he can often kill a person just through direct damage. Arc-Slogger is a great Prismatic card and worth buying if you intend to play the format a lot, or play it competitively. If you really have money to spend, add Flametongue Kavu, which is another 5-Color and Prismatic standard.
Green is the color of fatties, mana fixers and combat tricks. I already mentioned the man fixers, which will fill many of the green slots, and Nantuko Vigilantes. Green can also supply some fatties. Moss Kami, with just one colored mana in the casting cost and being a relatively common common, is an easy choice. If you have some around, Viridian Shaman is often good, as is Naturalize or even Creeping Mold.
Combat tricks abound. Giant Growth is a classic – but Predator’s Strike (which provides trample) or Ferocious Charge (which has scry) are almost always better. I run one or two Strength of Cedars in my Prismatic deck. Practically anything works – just make sure it is an instant and does enough to be worth the card.
Artifacts are great fillers for a budget Prismatic deck since they help dodge mana screw issues. The Replicas (Goblin Replica, Elf Replica, etc.) are clearly not world-class beaters – but they do beat, they do block, and once in a while their activated abilities come in very handy. If you are short on beaters, you can even play cards like Razor Golem and not be completely outclassed. They are nothing special, but if you are trying to find the last couple cards to complete a budget deck, they can fill slots. For beatdown decks, cards like Juggernaut are also highly playable. I have even included some in my real-life 5-Color decks at times.
You also want to play equipment, because equipment can turn some of your more marginal creatures into powerhouses. Obviously, Jitte and Swords are great, but Bonesplitter, Vulshok Morningstar, and No-Dachi have worked for me. Lightning Greaves can also be very good. Just make sure you have enough creatures in the build to keep the equipment in use.
The advantage of a Prismatic deck is that you have a lot of room for cards, so you can play many of your good rares. If you have a great piece of equipment, like a Jitte, play it, and play Steelshaper’s Gift to find it. If you have a Bringer or Kokusho, add them. Just remember, if your deck is designed to drop plenty of weenies and beat down fast, don’t add a bunch of expensive monsters, or you may slow the whole deck down too far. Likewise, if you have a deck dedicated to mana acceleration and board-clearing with spells like Pyroclasm and Slice and Dice, then playing Goblin Sharpshooters and Weathered Wayfarers may not be a great idea.
Once you start playing Prismatic, you will soon discover that it can be a lot of fun. Prismatic decks play differently every match, since the odds are against drawing the same individual cards, or groups of cards, game after game. Some games will go as planned, and others will take unusual twists. I have won with strange interactions and tricks almost as often as I have won with straight beatdown.
You will, however, occasionally meet decks that are just plain better than yours. I remember facing someone with an almost all foil deck, including foil Onslaught Fetchlands and Pernicious Deeds. I did not win that match, but I got lucky and took one game. More importantly, I played a dozen games in the casual Constructed room over the course of a couple hours, and only faced really powerful decks twice. I won about half the games, which is fine for a true budget deck.
The only downside to Prismatic is that the decks are big, which can make tuning them difficult. Every time I draft, I wonder if I have pulled anything worth putting in my Prismatic deck, but it takes some work to make the substitution. Thankfully, the stats icon will let you check whether the deck is still Prismatic-legal, without having to do individual counts by color – but the decks are still 250 cards, or more. I played at least one person with a deck of upwards of 1,400 cards.
He won. I’m off to win the rematch.