Recently I’ve been faced with a Magical problem. I’m in love with the Five-Color Control deck in Block, but all signs seem to point to the dominance of Faeries, which also happens to be one of my worst matchups. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m willing to eat a bad matchup against Faeries, evidenced by the fact that you can still find me casting Reveillarks and Mirror Entities in Standard queues, but the stories I’ve heard from this weekend’s round of PTQs frighten even me. I’ve heard of Top 8s with four Faerie decks, and the only deck able to eliminate them is the fifth Faerie deck. I’ve heard of swiss matches against five Faerie decks in seven rounds.
I don’t really like my chances with Five-Color Control in those waters.
The reason that I’ve been championing Reveillark in Standard despite the mass of Faerie decks is that, in many circumstances, you can afford a loss. Even in the MTGO queues, which are single-elimination, you can deal with getting knocked out because you’ve got plenty more tix to fall back on. As long as Faeries isn’t beating you in the first round every time, it’s okay to lose to them. The problem with this philosophy is that you can’t afford any losses in a PTQ. In a Pro Tour, you might say that anything less than first place is a disappointment, but I’m sure that you won’t be too sad to walk away with fifteen grand and another shot at glory. On the other hand, a box of packs feels like little more than a joke when you’ve spent your whole Saturday just to get within two matches of a qualification.
This brings me back to my problem. I’m in love with the Five-Color Control deck, and I want to find a way to salvage it, as opposed to just switching to another deck and trying to beat the Faeries with Stalwarts or Cavaliers. The good news is that there’s certainly more than one way to skin this particular cat, and an online acquaintance of mine may have found something that looks like the answer.
Last week I got an instant message from someone who was just looking for input on their take on Five-Color Control. They had decided that the innovation to run with was Devoted Druid. The Druid is definitely a more offbeat choice than something like Fertile Ground, but I think that I’ve been convinced that it’s better. Fertile Ground usually gets the nod because it fixes your mana and accelerates you, but at the same time it sets you up to get completely wrecked by Fulminator Mage. Devoted Druid is certainly less hardy than the Aura in general, suffering from the fate of being a creature in the Shriekmaw/Firespout format, but losing it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as losing the enchanted land. In addition, the Druid can ramp you up to a fourth-turn hardcast Cloudthresher, which sounds to me like a great way to beat those Faeries back down.
I had doubts about his list because he eschewed both Kitchen Finks and Plumeveil, but Blair managed to take his deck straight to the finals of his PTQ, beating Faeries twice along the way. Unfortunately, he fell just short of the ultimate goal (Faeries, obviously), but he did prove that his idea had merit. His decklist, which should be posted by Wizards at the same time as this article, was:
- 2 Austere Command
- 2 Broken Ambitions
- 4 Cryptic Command
- 2 Makeshift Mannequin
- 2 Primal Command
- 1 Mind Spring
- 4 Firespout
There are quite obviously a ton of differences between this style of Five-Color and the one that I wrote about last week. Instead of going over them card-by-card, which I think wouldn’t actually detail the relevant points, I’d like to talk about the differences as they relate to the big three matchups you can expect to play against at a PTQ.
I might as well start with the one that scares me the most. It has been said that Five-Color’s best weapon against Faeries is Cloudthresher, and I don’t think I can find a way to disagree. While the Druid version packs no more actual Cloudthreshers than my own version, it is much better at using them. The obvious appeal of six mana on turn 4 with just one accelerant means that it’s much more dangerous to try to tap out for something like Scion of Oona, as you might have to deal with a 7/7 instead of just losing your guy to the Hurricane. I’d also like to mention, even though this is relatively obvious, that the Druid not only gets you to six mana, it gets you to the right six mana, leaving you with at least triple-Green.
Fulminator Mage is definitely something I like more than Kitchen Finks in this matchup, although that’s not too surprising because I think that the Finks are pretty bad here. While the Mage won’t help you stop a Bitterblossom, it can often stop Cryptic Command. It should be noted that it can be correct to hold back on a Mage sacrifice until a turn where you want to try to resolve something. Assuming your opponent isn’t just passing with all of their mana up every turn, you can use the Mage to destroy a land they were holding up for counter mana, helping your chances of actually landing that Oona or Austere Command.
The sideboard is clearly built with Faeries in mind, though I’m pretty sure at this point that I’d sneak the fourth Wispmare in there somewhere if I were about to head to a PTQ. The only cards in the maindeck that I’d want to cut for the second and third games are the four Firespouts, though Primal Command is not exactly my favorite card against Faeries. These four slots give you the room you want for Wispmares and the fourth Cloudthresher. If you decide that you must get the Primal Commands out, then you can bring in Puppeteer Clique simply as a persistent threat or Shriekmaw to kill Scions, Sowers, and Cliques.
Overall, this deck will come out faster and with more relevant cards in the first game, though it will lose a bit of Broken Ambitions edge. In the second game, the two different takes on Five-Color are extremely close to each other, but this list again has the upper hand due to the extreme mana acceleration that the Druid gives you. This list is probably about as good at fighting a Bitterblossom, and is certainly better at winning when Blossom isn’t in the picture.
My original big worry with Five-Color Control was that you’d just get run over by Kithkin every time. This is why I beefed up my maindeck numbers on Plumeveil and added an extra Austere Command to my sideboard. On the other hand, this deck has trimmed a Shriekmaw and doesn’t have either of the defensive three-drops. Fulminator Mage isn’t exactly awful, though, as it can discourage Wizened Cenn attacks while dealing with Mutavault or Windbrisk Heights. However, the Druid deck also has fewer Mind Springs and fewer Broken Ambitions, both of which feel like a liability to me when I’m fighting one-drops. Instead, we have maindeck Primal Commands, which help us buy time and help us dig up the few Shriekmaws we do have.
There’s also the obvious benefit that’s been there all along. Devoted Druid can ramp out quick dudes, and a third-turn hardcast Shriekmaw sounds pretty good against Kithkin to me. Even just accelerating out the Cloudthresher or Oona you plan to sit behind can do the trick. On the other side of things, this version of the deck has found the room for that fourth Firespout in the maindeck, giving you a better chance to actually draw a sweeper in the pre-board games.
His sideboard has taken the same plan that Faeries has against Kithkin. Instead of boarding in just one more Austere Command, we’re going to have the full complement of Firespouts and three Incremental Blights, giving us nine sweepers to go with our Primal Commands and Shriekmaws. You’ve got room for six cards to come in (I don’t like Cloudthresher against Kithkin, even with Spectral Procession in the picture), so you can also have Crib Swaps, Wispmares, or Puppeteer Cliques. I would usually dismiss Wispmare unless you know that your opponent is packing Oblivion Ring, Militia’s Pride, or some other target for it. I would also usually dismiss Crib Swap, again, unless you knew that your opponent was going to try to beat you by bringing in something like Oversoul of Dusk. That leaves you with Puppeteer Clique, who is certainly not included to beat Kithkin, but still does a fine job blocking when you consider Persist.
I’m not sure how to call this one. I think that both styles of Five-Color have excellent post-board games against Kithkin, with a slight edge going to the Druid deck. The big problem with playing against Kithkin is that your sweepers are either stoppable with Forge-Tender or very slow, and Druid/Blight help to solve both of those problems. However, I think that my style of Five-Color has a better first game, with the extra defensive creatures, and while you’ll be playing at least as many sideboarded games as unsideboarded ones, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the first game just because your sideboard is rock-solid.
Last week I talked about what I believe are the two big ways to win the Five-Color mirror: get more use out of your spells or get more spells into play. I think that the Druid list falls behind in terms of getting more use out of your spells, as it has fewer counters, fewer Mind Springs, and fewer Shriekmaws. However, it pulls way ahead of my list in terms of getting more spells into play.
I said that there was one way to get more spells into play: have more mana. Of course, this deck accomplishes that in two directions. First, Devoted Druid accelerates your mana without exposing you to Fulminator Mage or either Command. Second, Fulminator Mage himself helps mess with their manabase. While neither of these two cards can completely turn the matchup around on their own, the fact that you have both of them means that you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting your neck ahead of theirs in this race. The only question is whether or not you can convert this mana advantage into anything real.
The good news is that I think that this deck can do exactly that. You might not have as many Mind Springs as the other guy, but if you’re playing the mana game with Devoted Druid and Fulminator Mage, then I think you’ll be pretty happy to spend your fourth turn casting a Primal Command to bounce a land and find an Oona. The simple numbers say that my list has seven big spells it wants to land to try to win. With the mana advantage supporting that, I’ll again give the nod to the Druid deck.
Of course, the sideboard also packs quite a bit for this matchup. There are up to nine cards you can board in; everything except for Wispmares and Incremental Blights. The most exciting sideboard options are Puppeteer Clique and Jace Beleren. Earlier I documented how I got destroyed by Puppeteer Clique. People may now be more aware that it exists, but it’s still going to kill them if they happen to have some Cloudthreshers in the graveyard. Jace is a card that I actually like less than the average guy, but the simple fact is that these Block decks don’t have a ton of ways to draw cards, so bringing in another cheap spell that can help you win the card war is certainly not a bad idea. Crib Swap is a great answer to whatever big threat your opponent decides to throw out there, and then Cloudthresher, Shriekmaw, and Primal Command can all come in to help out your threat density. Personally, I wouldn’t go that far. My plan with this list would be to take out Firespouts and Austere Commands for Puppeteers, Jaces, and Crib Swaps. That gives you plenty of punch, and I think that cutting more cards for more win conditions is not actually going to get you any closer to a win.
There are elements of my decklist that I hate to see leave. I love Twilight Shepherd, and I like having two Oonas to fight with. I think that I’ve got exactly what you want to hold off the Kithkin, and more in the board to help out. However, I can’t deny the power of Devoted Druid, and I think that there’s a very good chance that he’ll be a great way to power up Five-Color Control going forward.
However, there are some things that I’d like to change about the decklist. I haven’t had nearly as much experience with it as the person I got it from, so I can’t necessarily say that these changes are correct, but I’d like to see more Mind Springs and Mind Shatters. It seems to me that both of these cards are good in the abstract, and both of them are extremely powerful when you’re playing a deck capable of firing them out there for four cards on the fourth turn.
The problem that I see is that you’ve lost four slots in the deck to a simple mana accelerant. While he may be very powerful, you’re now looking at twenty-nine mana sources, and so it makes sense to me to want some way to make sure I can convert this back into cards. In discussions with the deck’s creator, he has said that his suggestion is to add more Primal Commands, as an early Command almost always implies a win in the future. He may be right; Primal Command doesn’t draw you as many cards as Mind Spring, but if it gets you the one card that you need, it’s done plenty.
I look forward to tinkering with this deck on Magic Online in the coming weeks. It’s got the same Five-Color skeleton that I’ve fallen in love with, and it’s got the power of Devoted Druid to propel it past the Faerie menace that’s rearing its head.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM