The Kitchen Table #215 – Five Color Overhaul

Read Abe Sargent every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Hello folks, and welcome back to the column charged with the exploration of all things casual. I’m your continuing host, Abe Sargent. Today, I have a significant treat for all Five Color fans out there.

Hello folks, and welcome back to the column charged with the exploration of all things casual. I’m your continuing host, Abe Sargent. Today, I have a significant treat for all Five Color fans out there.

Before I begin, I want to take a second and apologize to the three great deckbuilders whose work featured in last week’s article. If I had known that my pre-article rant would take the focus completely off them and place it onto me, I would not have put it before them last week. Instead, I would have waited until this week. So, to Gene Guth, Daniel Walker, and Ben Gasser, I hereby publicly apologize that your incredible work may have been lost in the positive and negative outpouring over last week’s rant. I could have delayed it by a week; I didn’t in order to give the article more space, and it was wrong to take the limelight away from you.

We are going to discuss Five Color at length. Before we can do that, we need to bring those who may not know Five Color up to speed. Five Color is a casual format that allows all Vintage legal sets, requires a deck size of at least 250 cards and at least 20 cards in each color. Multicolored cards count for any one requirement of a color in them, we have generous all land / no land / one land mulligans, and we have to have our own banned and restricted list due to the quirkiness of the format. You can find the B&R list, official rules of the format, sample decklists and a forum dedicated to the world of Five Color over at the format’s homepage.

As most of the readers will know, Five Color has a committee to oversee the format, of which I have the pleasure of serving. I’ve been on the Five Color Ruling Council (5CRC) almost as long as I’ve been a featured writer here at SCG, and as you can tell by the number after “The Kitchen Table” and before “Five Color Overhaul,” that’s been long time

Today I would like to publicly welcome the newest member of the 5CRC, Terry Robinson, who is replacing John Carter. In honor of our newest member, I felt that it was time to officially propose some significant rules changes to the format.

Before I delve into the specifics of my suggested changes, let’s talk a bit more about the format. Five Color has been around for a long time, and I started just before the release of Invasion. That was a very casual time for Five Color, when the banned and restricted list included powerhouses like Recurring Nightmare and Corpse Dance. It was random and wacky, and included greats like Nettletooth Djinn in decks.

Of course, like most formats do, it grew and developed over time into a much more tuned format. With the addition of numerous cards that increase redundancy, Five Color decks have become so tuned that it is not unreasonable to see one defeat a Legacy deck.

There are a lot of old school players who want to see a return to the old days, when the decks were more casual.

Of course, we have individual play groups where this is not a problem. Even when my direct playgroup builds normal Five Color decks for tournaments, I can’t recall seeing uber-competitive decks. For casual play, it’s highlander or a more laid back version of Five Color with some of these quirky cards, like the aforementioned Nettletooth Djinn.

Therefore, we are left with some players wanting change to return us to the old days of Five Color, while others are fine with the format, and might want to see a few tweaks to the game at best.

With that in mind, I need to give you a few principles that I used in coming up with the below proposals.

1) Five Color is a fun format, but there is room for improvement A lot of players feel a disconnect in the format, that there are unresolved issues with the way the format plays, with what it wants to do. I want to make Five Color the most fun format of all time, period. It is not right now, but it is a ton of fun, and my default format when I play with my friends. I want people to love Five Color so much that they demand tournaments, articles, and more from the Magic community. We can do that, but we aren’t close to being there.

2) Players should be allowed as much freedom in choosing their deck as possible. While the format has constraints on colors and minimum deck size, we should allow people to have the most choice. Imagine a Banned and Restricted list with Scarwood Bandits on it. No one plays with Scarwood Bandits, so it really doesn’t change the format at all, yet it feels constricting. We need to have the most freedom allowed.

3) Five Color needs a bit of a shakeup. I don’t think we need to ban all cards printed after 1999 or anything, but a lot of players feel that disconnect in the format, and this is an honest attempt to alleviate that.

4) The Five Color rules dictate just two things. They are the rules to be used at tournaments, and they are the default rules that two players use when they sit down to play, unless they’ve agreed on another set of rules. This principle will be used to change and streamline many current rules proposals.

As of the writing of this document, I have yet to propose these changes to the 5CRC, but I will by the time this sees publication. Please note that every single rules proposal below will be an individual proposal, allowing individual members to pick and choose what they want to support. I don’t expect to see all of these pass, but I do expect to see debate.

The Proposals

I will begin with proposed rules changes, going in order from least controversial to most.

Rules Change #1: Add “and Falling Star” to the Chaos Orb rulings

This change simply demonstrates that Falling Star fits the same ruling as Chaos Orb. It’s a simple change, and one that shouldn’t be controversial at all. Every casual format that allows Chaos Orb has to have a ruling on how it works, and I just want to see Falling Star added to that ruling.

Rules Change #2: Rewrite the Wish rules

This rule change would change the Wish and Ring of Ma’Ruf rule to the following:

Ring of Ma’Ruf, Wishes, Research and Other Similar Effects

In addition to the limitations on the cards themselves, any card that says you can take a card from outside the game and bring it into the game follows the following rules:

a) You may search only for a card you own;
b) The cards must be within your immediate range of motion; and
c) The cards retrieved cannot make your deck illegal. Cards in the ante zone cannot be affected.

The changes here are largely cosmetic. I clear up the language, bullet the rules to make them easier to see, and pull out the reference to the Judgment Wishes, since there is a Wish now outside of Judgment. As it was written, the rule did not apply to Glittering Wish… now it does. I also added Research of Research/Development to the rule, which is a rules change. I also made the rule open-ended in case future sets have a similar mechanic. This is largely a cleanup, which adds Glittering Wish to the rules, adds Research to the rules, and allows for future effects. Again, I expect to see little resistance to this cleanup.

Rules Change #3: Remove the “Having No Permanents” rule.

There is currently a cute rule that states that players with no permanents cannot speak. It’s pretty and its funny, and it is definitely an artifact of the days of yore. It also needs to go. Why?

First of all, we want to have as few rules as possible, and this eliminates another section from the rules (I will be proposing more removals shortly). You want your rules to look small. This is a concern, but not a major one.

The major reason we need to remove it is because it is unenforceable. At a tournament, are you saying that a player cannot call a judge to ask a question when they have no permanents? Can they not tell their opponent what phase they are on? It is an unenforceable rule, and it needs to be pulled out. I suspect that a few players will miss the rule, because they are fond of it, but I bet even most of them realize that it just has to go.

Rules Change #4: Add the following: No search effect may take longer than ninety seconds to perform in a tournament setting.

This is a pretty straightforward rule. Tutoring can take a while, no question. This tells people to keep it to 90 seconds Previously, there has been no official rule regarding searches, we’ve just told people to keep it short. I think we need an official rule, and I felt 90 second was appropriate. If you can’t find it in 90 seconds, then you don’t get it. This rule would apply to cards like Haunting Echoes as well. [Haunting Echoes too? Harsh. — Craig.]

Rules Change #5: Remove ante language from determining who goes first.

As per the current rules, there are about eight lines of rules about determining who goes first with ante. This rules change would streamline all of those rules to this:

5-Color uses the standard Play-or-Draw rule except in group games. Play is determined at random.

From eight lines to barely two, that cuts a large swath out of the rules. Why this change?

First of all, tournaments are not played for ante, so we didn’t need to ante or ghost ante or whatever to determine who goes first. Simply rolling a die, flipping a coin, or playing Rock-Paper-Scissors is sufficient. Second, this gave a subtle edge to aggro decks with small casting cost cards over other decks, and aggro is already ruling the roost, and they don’t need this subtle little bump.

Like the previous change, I don’t expect this one to be that controversial, although some players might be fond of it. Again, we take the rule from 8 lines to 2, and that’s a real boon, while eliminating a slight edge that aggro had and didn’t need.

Rules Change #6: Remove proxy ruling

These next two changes are about removing optional rules from the ruleset. Remember that these rules have two purposes, they are the rules for tournament and the default rules of casual play. As tournament rules, we don’t need optional rules, and for the default rules, we don’t need optional rules. If you have to sit down with an opponent at a causal game, and then decided which of the optional rules you are going to play with, then the options get in the way of the defaults.

Therefore, I feel that we should eliminate and streamline the rules by pulling all optional rules out.

In the rules, there is a small section on proxies. In that section, they are listed as optional. Since they are optional, let’s pull out that section. Again, it doesn’t hurt much to pull it out. If your playgroup still wants to play with proxies, that’s fine. If you ask someone new that you play if you can play with proxies, that’s fine. However, default rules need to be just that — rules, not a checklist of options.

Rules Change #7: Remove all mention of ante from the rules

As stated now, ante is an optional rule that Five Color players are allowed to use. As an optional rule, it needs to be pulled out. Ante is not allowed in tournament play, so we should eliminate all mention of it.

This one change completely overhauls the rules, making them massively smaller. Gone are sections of how to ante, gone are the rules on Jeweled Bird, gone is the new wording on Contract from Below. Also this would remove all ante cards from the B&R list. Now again, if your playgroup wants to play for ante, then you are encouraged to do so. If you do, Contract is no longer restricted, so go to town. However, as the default rules and for tournament play, ante is now gone.

The only mention that would remain is the reminder in the Wish rule that Wishes cannot get cards from the ante zone, because people would wonder otherwise. Except for that one specification, all mention is removed completely and totally. There is no rule that bans ante, it just simply goes unmentioned.

I expect this to be controversial, but I hope you can understand where I am coming from on this one. It’s not being used at tournaments, and the default rules need to be just that. There shouldn’t be debate with the default rules, you should just sit down to play and ask if anyone wants to play with different rules, like highlander or ante or 500 card minimum. It also throws ante players a bone by pulling Contract off if it passes.

Rules Change #8: Add to the rules the following, “Players begin the game with thirty life.”

Now this one I expect to be the most controversial. I started a thread on the Five Color forums discussing possible ways to make the format better. I began with the idea of adding 100 cards to the format, and we talked about various other ways, such as lowering the number of cards to two of each card, increasing the color count to 25, and so forth.

This was a change suggested by one of the players on the forum that I think was particularly smart. It’s an easy change, and it requires little deck modification. It makes aggro a bit worse, and makes some combo decks try a bit harder, but it is not a roadblock to those decks winning. Control decks are, by far, the worst performers in the general consensus of 5C players, and this is a bone of that group of decks without completely hosing aggro and combo (in fact, some combo decks will benefit from the 10 life bump)

I think a Five Color that doesn’t end on the fourth turn will bring back some of the Magic of old for those old school players without greatly disputing the game, like many of my proposals would have done. It is an elegant solution, and I hope that you will join me in considering and passing it, as a way to evolve Five Color to the next level while still bringing back the flavor of the old days.

Next up is the B&R list changes. I will begin with the banned list.

To Deban

The official proposal for these three cards is to be removed from the B&R list entirely. We currently have 100 cards on the B&R list, and that is simply unacceptable. We need to allow players maximum choice, and we need the B&R list to be a real list, and not just a list of cards that used to be powerful but aren’t anymore.

Followers of Vintage know that there were cards on the DCI B&R list for years longer than they needed to be, because the DCI was afraid of pulling them off, despite the inability of anybody to prove they were still powerful enough to be on the lists.

The same is true here. We have some cards that simply aren’t as powerful as they once were. We also have some cards that were maybe overvalued which time has led us to re-evaluate.

We begin with three cards that I think can just be pulled off the Banned and Restricted list altogether.

Deban Shahrazad: No one likes playing against this card, and it can slow down games in tournaments. I understand that. Note that there are a lot of cards people don’t like playing against that are legal, like Armageddon. Since there are rules in tournaments for what happens when two players tie, there seems to be no reason to ban Shahrazad to prevent ties. Divine Intervention isn’t banned.

Note that we are also the default rules for casual play, and there is no reason to ban Shahrazad in casual play. We aren’t going to see a rash of players with Shahrazads in their deck. Remember, we are the causal format that allows cards other formats ban, like Chaos Orb. We should allow this as well. This is where you should be able to play Shahrazad.

Deban Darkpact, Bronze Tablet: This proposal is in addition to the ante removal rules change. Should that rules change go through, this will automatically happen. Should it not go through, this change should still be voted upon.

There are several cards in the game that take cards during an ante game, and we have only banned two of them. Timmerian Fiends and Tempest Efreet might not be that good, but it’s not like Bronze Tablet is so broken. These cards need to be pulled off for several reasons. First of all, we need to either play all stealing cards, or none of them. We need to be consistent. Second, if you want to play for hardcore ante, then you need to really play it.

In this column, I’ve advocated the playing of ante on numerous occasions. However, despite my love for the mechanic, I know when it needs to go and stay. Don’t you find it a bit two-faced that there is a contingent of Five Color players that want to play with an unrestricted Contract and ante, the way Garfield intended, and yet want to keep Darkpact banned? You can’t have it both ways. We need to pull these cards off, in case the ante proposal fails, so that players who want to play ante with other can use them. It cleans up our B&R list, while also giving plays options.

To Deban and Restrict

The following cards are officially being proposed for removal from the banned list and placement on the restricted list.

Deban and Restrict Earthcraft: Earthcraft was a card that scared people, back when combo decks scared people in general. I think every healthy format needs a combo deck or two in it at the same level of power as the other decks. There is nothing wrong with combo. Earthcraft was banned because of a two-card interaction with Squirrel Nest. However, even if it were allowed and restricted, there are several things preventing it from going off today:

1) Due to the printing of the new duels, fully tricked out decks often don’t even run basic lands for Earthcraft to untap. These decks would have to hurt their manabase in order to run the combo.
2) This combo wins as soon as turn 5 without acceleration or another combo component. (Turn 2 Earthcraft, turn 3 Nest, turn 4 tap Nest and make 100 tokens, turn 5 swing with the creatures and win). There are combo decks today that win sooner, and aggro decks are winning at around the same time or sooner. This is not particularly quick.
3) The deck requires an attack step to win, which is highly disruptable.
4) The deck has a restricted combo piece, which again lends itself to disruption.

Considering all of these weaknesses, note that it takes a simple Naturalize or Kami of Ancient Law in order to disrupt the deck. It would require good decks to hurt themselves by weakening their manabase, and opens them combo up to disruption of a significant kind. There are numerous foils to the deck, and it isn’t even that quick. I don’t think that Earthcraft would rule the roost if debanned and restricted.

Deban and Restrict Wild Research: In retrospect, I’m not sure this card was even ban worthy. Get an instant and discard at random? What are you getting that is so broken? Ancestral Recall is the most broken instant I know, and you can only play 1. The cost to play and then fetch is pretty significant. Wild Research has always appeared scary, but I don’t think it has even been broken.

Deban and Restrict Parallel Thoughts: This card was banned largely due to the power of Contract From Below, which isn’t even allowed in tournaments anymore. It can be broken with a Memory Jar or Wheel of Fortune, but all of those elements would be restricted, and frankly, two restricted cards being really good together is not much cause for concern to my mind. Again, it is a card that looks potent, but without four Contracts, the randomness of it keeps it from being broken.

Deban and Restrict Sundering Titan: The Titan was banned for reasons, one of which is gone and one that stays. It was banned in part because of its interaction with Tinker, which is now banned. The other reason it was banned is frankly, because it hurt the powered decks more than the unpowered decks.

Sundering Titan shook up the metagame by taking down the decks that had spent a lot of money tricking themselves out with dual lands. It was the great leveler between budget Five Color decks and money decks, and that’s why money won and got it banned, by saying it was too powerful with Tinker. Well, with Tinker gone, what’s the excuse for it to still be banned?

Here’s proof of my claim:

Player A is a budget player with a few basics and a lot of non basics in order to fix their mana. In play, Player A has in play right now a Vivid Marsh, Plains, Coastal Tower and City of Brass.

Player B has all dual land and fetches is his tricked out deck. He has out right now a Tundra, Taiga, Badlands, and Bayou.

The tricked out player can’t even play Sundering Titan off a Zombify without nuking his own manabase. The budget player can Zombify a Titan without even hurting his one Plains. Sundering Titan was David’s Sling, and the Goliath of Five Color didn’t want it around. Now that Tinker is banned, it should come off the list and be restricted, although I expect the Goliaths to find some argument against it. (Maybe they’ll use the “It’s not fun to play against” line) .

To Derestrict

All of the below cards are on the proposal to be unrestricted and removed from the B&R list.

Derestrict Grinning Totem: A few years ago I asked if we could unrestrict Grinning Totem, and I was told that since it got a Contract From Below, it needed to be on the restricted list.

Now it doesn’t get Contract From Below in tournaments, plus I have the proposal to remove the optional ante from the rules, so this seems like the right time to pull this off.

Derestrict Bribery: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked to get this pulled off the list. This card is the Corpse Dance of the modern B&R list, its presence is laughable. In tournaments, what are you getting with this? Serendib Efreet? In casual play, this card isn’t so powerful that it needs to be restricted. It’s an alright card, but it’s funny when someone is beating with your Rith. Remember the proposal to move all search effects to a 90 second cap applies to this card in tournaments

Derestrict Dimir Machinations, Perplex: We just pulled Drift of Phantasms off the B&R list, and I think we can take these cards off as well.

Derestrict Doomsday: This is another artifact of previous B&R lists going back ages. Doomsday is restricted because it looks powerful. Forget that any combo built around it is fragile as all get out, and forget that it costs three Black mana, it’s a combo card that might win the game someday, so we should restrict. I have asked and asked over the years for someone to build a deck that would actually abuse an unrestricted Doomsday, and no one ever has. This relic needs to come off the list.

Derestrict Channel: Channel is another card this is spooky and scary. We have to get over our fears. No one plays Channel, and even if an unrestricted Channel were used in a modern Channel-Ball deck, that deck would be vulnerable and funny at the same time. No deck that abused Channel would be better than the combo decks of today.

Derestrict Infernal Tutor: Set aside for a second the rare chance that this is actually a Demonic Tutor. Think about what makes tutors so powerful. They can get the most powerful cards in your deck. However, Infernal Tutor only gets the most powerful card in your hand that isn’t restricted. Umm, that’s not that bad. At its worst, it gets the most powerful unrestricted card in your deck, like maybe a Lightning Bolt or something. Again, not that bad. If you do manage the hellbent, this would still require more hops than, say, casting the unrestricted Diabolic Tutor would require.

Derestrict Recollect: I think we need to realize that a Regrowth effect for three mana is an acceptable price to pay. Eternal Witness should still be restricted, because you get a lot more for your three mana investment that can be abused. Recollect, on the other hand, is just one less than Elven Cache and one more than Regrowth. I don’t even think unrestricting Regrowth would damage the environment that much, but Recollect is even worse. It’s almost always worse than a tutor, because the ideal card you need is rarely in your graveyard. This is fine, and a fair price to pay for the effect. (See Tenth edition for an example)

Derestrict Rhystic Tutor: Most players don’t even play this tutor in their decks. The chance it will get countered by your opponent having two mana open is simply not worth it. I doubt I would play this in any deck that didn’t have strong tempo elements like Tangle Wire and Winter Orb. Know what else would be amazing is those types of decks? Rhystic Study, but that isn’t restricted. We seem to have gotten over our collective tutor fear, and need to just go ahead and axe this one.

Derestrict Planar Portal: For twelve mana, you too can tutor. Then for an additional six, you can do it again and again. Does this card have the potential to be abused in certain deck builds Of course it does, but the B&R list should be for cards that are occasionally good, and usually stinky. It’s for cards that so warp the environment they have to be on there. Planar Portal doesn’t warp the environment. Set it free.

Derestrict Glittering Wish: I voted to restrict this a few months ago. I believe, in retrospect, I was wrong. I wish I had realized it before voting, but I am willing to admit that this past month I realized my mistake. There is nothing too broken to get with it (Mirari’s Wake, Sterling Grove, Squandered Resources, Cadaverous Bloom; this is not a list that scares me). Frankly, if the ability were that good, we just have restricted Supply/Demand, which I would never do. I officially apologize to all Five Color-dom for my idiotic vote for this card, and I’ll try to make up for it by proposing its removal from the list.

Above we have 18 of the 100 cards on the B&R list up for debanning, debanning but restricting, and just derestrictifying. With the additional eight rules changes, I hope that you can see this would be a better Five Color.

Again, every single one of these changes is proposed individually, so some may get voted affirmatively, and some will be rejected. However, I believe that the Five Color we end up with on the other side of this vote will be worth playing, and worth your trust in me and my position.

Thanks for tuning in, and catch you next week when we return to Magic: the Role Playing.

Until later…

Abe Sargent