Peebles Primers – Re-Examining Five-Color Elementals in Block Constructed

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Wednesday, July 30th – Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, you’ll know of the dominant Faerie decks that are currently bludgeoning the Block Constructed metagame. But what if you don’t wanna play with the Fae? What if your deck desires are a little more… elemental? Today’s Peebles Primers sees BPM revisit the once-popular Five-Color Elemental archetype, looking at its current position and its options with Eventide…

My participation in the current Block Constructed format began with an Instant Message to my old roommate regarding the deck I wanted to borrow. I claimed that I was waffling between picking Bucher’s Five-Color Control, and Levy’s Five-Color Elementals. As you may know, I picked Five-Color Control, and played it in a few PTQs. I had moderate success at one, and a terrible time at the other (I failed to win the game where my opponent cast Gaddock Teeg after saving the Teeg he already had in play with Barkshell Blessing during combat). Angry at myself for not winning the gift match, and annoyed in general with the poor Faeries matchup, I turned to look for another deck.

At the same time, that old roommate was trying to get involved in Magic Online. As neither of us really feel like forking out the 120 tix it would cost to obtain Mutavaults, the deck choices were few and far between. At least that’s what we thought, until I remembered my one-time interest in Five-Color Elementals. I eventually dug up a solid list, and we were off.

As soon as my roommate decided that the deck wasn’t his style, I started taking it for runs in the Tournament Practice room and in the Constructed Queues. In fact, as I write this I’m sitting with seven players in the queue, waiting for one more to fire the event.

It should come as no surprise that the queues are overrun by Faeries. I have played in less than ten eight-mans, but I still haven’t seen more than a single non-Faerie deck, which is at least a little bit surprising. The good news, then, is the fact that this deck seems to have a very solid Faerie matchup. It is decidedly worse against Kithkin, but a strong Faerie matchup and a good game against various controlling decks make it a strong contender for the Block pilot who refuses to join ’em.


Versus Faeries – There are many different builds of Faeries floating around, but the two most important cards for you to know about are Peppersmoke and Broken Ambitions. Peppersmoke is a slam-dunk answer for sketchy hands that rely on Smokebraider, and is good against Mannequin counters and some of your Harbinger targets. Combats and mulligan decisions can hinge on this card, so hope they don’t have it or hope they don’t draw it.

Broken Ambitions seems to be falling out of favor, which is very nice for this deck. Due to Smokebraider, Incandescent Soulstoke, and the Evoke mechanic, this deck is jam-packed with high-cost cards that make life difficult for Spellstutter Sprites. Therefore, a lack of Broken Ambitions might easily turn into multiple resolved spells for you while you harass their Cryptic Commands. Some decks have replaced them, not with Ponder or Thoughtseize, but with Faerie Trickery, and that’s nearly as bad for you. If they do have Broken Ambitions, you’re going to want to pay for spells with Smokebraider even if you’ve got the mana to hardcast things and want to swing for a point, since you’ll find it difficult to pay the extra fee with Smokebraider mana.

In general, you’re looking at wins that come from your opponent’s manabase or from your massive spells. Even if they’ve got a Bitterblossom, they’re going to want to counter Mulldrifter, Reveillark, Cloudthresher, and Horde of Notions, so it’s not uncommon to either slip one of those in under the counter wall, or to stick one after they’ve burned most of their gas. As soon as one spell resolves, you’ll find that the rest tend to resolve too, so you might easily come back from a horrible position when your Mulldrifter finds its way into play and then brings along a friend or two.

I mentioned the manabase problem, and it’s a real one for them. Many of these decks are trying to play early Blue and Black spells while also fitting Mutavaults in, and while Sunken Ruins can help splash a Bitterblossom, it can also choke on those same Mutavaults. If your opponent stumbles for just a turn, you can start a huge cascade of bomb Elementals.

The games that you lose are the ones where you can’t get on board and your sweepers can’t get you back in the game. The nightmare Blossom, Stutter, Mistbind draws tend to pull this off, but you might also find your key spell knocked out by a Thoughtseize, only to learn that this deck plays a massive number of mana sources and you’re about to draw them all. Of course, Faeries can grind out a win too; you don’t actually have a ton of answers to small flying men, so if they can keep the skies relatively clear, they can win with a large number of small attacks.

Sideboarding in this matchup isn’t something I really have down to a formula. Firespout, Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, and Crib Swap are all cards that I might want to draw at certain points and might hate to draw at others. I almost always sideboard out the Firespouts and Shriekmaws first, as big sorceries tend to make you more vulnerable to the cards that can beat you in a “fair” fight. The cards in your sideboard that you might want are Wispmare, Fulminator Mage, and Eyes of the Wisent (with a stretch for Sower of Temptation if you’re feeling saucy). I always bring the Wispmares in, and I always bring the Fulminators and Eyes in if I’m on the play, but on the draw I’m not as fond of the Stone Rains.

Versus Kithkin – While it felt like I was taking a huge step forward against Faeries by switching off of Five-Color Control, it feels like I’ve taken a pretty big step backward against Kithkin.

The card that scares me the most is Windbrisk Heights, as it tends to mean I need to worry about the 1/1s and 2/2s that I might otherwise leave alone on a clogged board. This deck only packs three Firespouts and a Festercreep, so the situation you don’t want to see is the one where they’ve got a bunch of idiots, a Windbrisk Heights, and (likely) a Cloudgoat Ranger in-hand. If you blow your Spout you’ll just lose to the Ranger/Heights, and if you don’t you might find that you’re suddenly dead to the Mirrorweave hiding under their land.

Mirrorweave is very scary in general, since your big creatures that you might like to hide behind don’t come in Legendary form, so it’s risky to drop a Reveillark trying to stabilize the board against a horde of 2/2s for two. Sometimes, though, you just have to hope that they don’t have it, as you find yourself in a spot where both playing around it by slowrolling your fatty loses you the game, and playing into it by dropping said fatty also loses you the game.

It is probably the knee-jerk reaction to go find Shriekmaws with your Harbingers, but chances are good that this is only going to be the best option when your hand is extremely good, and when those good cards include a Smokebraider. Usually, you’re going to want to dig up some way to play your cards out faster (Smokebraider or Soulstoke) or some way to make sure that you’ve got plenty of cards to throw in your opponent’s path (Mulldrifter or Reveillark). Occasionally you’ll find the need for a Cloudthresher to Hurricane for the win or simply play Wall of Ice, but he’s a pretty terrifying Mirrorweave target too.

The sideboard is actually not that great, featuring an extra Firespout and Nameless Inversion, as well as a full boat of Sowers. Usually your cuts will be the three Cloudthreshers, Wispmare, Crib Swap, and an extra card of your choice (I like Makeshift Mannequin or Flamekin Harbinger). The Sowers can be very strong, but sometimes they fall victim to Oblivion Rings or Crib Swaps. Overall, you’re hoping for a fast hand that has a fair amount of creature control, but that can be a tall order at times.

Versus Five-Color Control – This deck is becoming less and less popular over time, due in large part to its mediocre matchup against Faeries. However, there’s still enough of it out there that you want to make sure that you know what you’re doing; the PTQ finals may be against a Faerie player, but you’re probably going to have to knock off a few 5CC pilots on your way to that finals match.

Many Five-Color Control decklists don’t have Nameless Inversions, and that’s the way you’d like things to be. You’re often hoping to out-pace them with Smokebraiders and Incandescent Soulstoke, so you’d like to know that your creature is going to live until your next turn once you manage to make it past the counterspells you know they’re packing. In the absence of Nameless Inversion, you’re usually going to be able to put them into a position where it’s Firespout or bust very quickly. At the same time, you need to respect the fact that they do actually have Firespouts in their deck, so just firing all of your Smokebraiders and friends into play might wind up losing you the game.

Your big threat is Horde of Notions, and resolving him often directly leads to victory. If you’re playing on Magic Online, casting creatures out of the graveyard is a little bit awkward, but you’ll get used to it when it wins you the game. On the other hand, their big threat is usually Oona, who manages to self-protect against Harbinger-ing up a Crib Swap. It’s almost impossible to beat an Oona once they untap with it, not because they’ll create a huge flying army, but because they will simply Fireball your library until there’s nothing left.

Long games against Five-Color tend not to go in your favor, as they’ll be able to set up Cryptic Command attacks and surprise Cloudthreshers, but it is very possible for them to run out of gas and flouder around while you assemble a team of Reveillarks and Mulldrifters. If, though, you can get one early threat to stick, you can find that they continuously must tap out to deal with it, leaving the door open to the next big hitter.

Similar to playing against Faeries, you’ll be bringing in Eyes of the Wisent and Fulminator Mage. You’ll also probably want to bring in Puppeteer Clique, even though chances are good that they’ll be boarding out their Cloudthreshers. Making room for all these cards isn’t too hard, as your four sweepers, Wispmare, two Shriekmaws, and two Inversions can all take a break. I like to leave one of each of the removal spells in my deck as a Harbinger target, but they’re not the most necessary cards to leave in the deck.

Your post-board plan is the same as your pre-board plan. You want to come out of the gates as fast as you can without walking straight into Firespout. Digging up Eyes and Fulminators can be great, and my favorite draws are the ones that involve a Reveillark bringing back a Stone Rain and a Counsel of the Soratami.

Eventide Updates

Eventide is upon us, and so it doesn’t make sense to just think about what Shadowmoor meant for Five-Color Elementals. The following cards are the ones in Eventide that I think have a good shot at making a splash in this sort of deck.

Dual Lands – This deck is primarily a Red/Black/Green deck, meaning that the Red/White and Red/Blue dual lands aren’t the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to the Elemental player. However, chances are quite good that the mana would like a little boost from a copy or two of each of these lands, giving you more lands that come into play untapped, thereby not interfering with your development quite so much.

Necroskitter – Originally, Necroskitter wasn’t on my list of cards to love in Eventide, but I think it serves a solid purpose in this deck’s sideboard. Currently we’ve got four Sower of Temptation sitting there, and while they’re great against things like Chameleon Colossus, they tend to die and are often too slow against Kithkin. In addition, they suffer from a difficult mana commitment and an inconvenient creature type. Necroskitter, though, would be good enough as an Elemental Horned Turtle with Wither, but it might even steal a creature of your opponent’s. In general, it’s a nice defensive card that you can tutor up with Harbinger and drop into play off of Primal Beyond, and that’s a hole that needs filling at the moment.

Ashling, the Extinguisher – This Ashling is also quite nice against Kithkin, being a solid defensive body that happens to be Mirrorweave-proof. Her stats make her pretty hard to kill, which is great since she’ll survive the Firespouts you fling around and the Shriekmaws your opponents do. I also like the idea of playing her against Kithkin as your spot removal might mean that they hold back more creatures than they otherwise would. After all, if they leave a Stalwart back to chump, you might well Invert it and then Ashling away their Wizened Cenn.

Soul Snuffers – Originally, this was the card that I was most excited about during the run up to Eventide, and I still want to play this guy in a lot of places. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is one of those places, as the deck is packed with 1/1s that don’t want to see the Snuffers show up. In addition, you’ve got a bunch of x/2s that enjoy their status as x/2s, and don’t really want to be downgraded when they’re trying to save you from angry Kithkin. However, chances are good that this guy will fill enough gaps that you’ll want him as a one-of tutor target, similar to Festercreep.

Overall, I think that Five-Color Elementals is a great deck to be playing in the current Block metagame. It has a great matchup against the current top dog, excellent additions waiting in the newest set, and it’s a blast to play. Hopefully this look at it will help you in your adventures with the deck.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM