The Kitchen Table #333 – Portal Five Color

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Wednesday, April 14th – Recently, I had purchased some Portal cards from SCG, and I was using my 15-20 minutes of bathtime to ensure that the whole delivery had arrived by checking the cards. While I was doing this, suddenly an idea came to me. What if I built a Five Color deck with nothing but cards from the starter sets?

Hello folks, and welcome back to the newest article in the series of casualness that some call The Kitchen Table. Today I am going to take an idea I had while in the bathtub, and turn it into a full blown article.

Recently, I had purchased some Portal cards from SCG, and I was using my 15-20 minutes of bathtime to ensure that the whole delivery had arrived by checking the cards. While I was doing this, suddenly an idea came to me. What if I built a Five Color deck with nothing but cards from the starter sets?

Now obviously, there would have to be a few rules. First of all, a handful of Portal cards are quite expensive these days, so I’d want to steer clear of things like Imperial Recruiter, Sea Drake, Rolling Earthquake, Grim Tutor, and Loyal Retainers.

Secondly and ideally, the cards you play should be Portal versions, but I totally understand if you didn’t want to purchase Portal Wrath of God and Wildfire and other Portal cards that already exist, and you probably own on the cheap.

Finally, I’d want the deck to abide by the newer rules of Five Color, so let’s review them:

Five Color:

300 cards
25 cards of each color required
These Portal Cards are restricted: Grim Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Personal Tutor
Generous mulligans

You can find out more here .

Let’s talk about a few points before building. All of the cards in Portal sets are just sorceries and creatures, which means that I am missing a lot of stuff in my deck. However, the Starter 1999 and 2000 sets introduced instants, and reprinted things like Counterspell. Therefore, I could play Counters. Starter 2000 added enchantments and artifacts and stuff like Disenchant, Shock and Terror. If I add stuff like this to my deck, then it will begin to feel like a non-Portal set with Remove Soul, Counterspell, Shock, Terror, Disenchant, etc. That’s not Portal. On the other hand, if I don’t include Disenchant, I really weaken my deck against artifacts and enchantments.

The Portal sets mean that the only spells I can counter are sorceries and creatures, and creature removal isn’t as good. My deck will be totally unable to take on artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers. But I can change that with Disenchants. The tools are available. What to do?

In order to preserve the flavor of Portal, I will only use sorceries and creatures from Starter 1999 and 2000, even though it may hurt me in the end.

There is not a lot of mana smoothing, so I want to minimize the use of double color spells to the essential cards for the deck.

Here we go!

Portal Five Color

4 Wall of Swords
4 Temple Acolyte
4 Angel of Mercy
4 Wrath of God
4 Path of Peace
4 Champion Lancer
4 Righteous Fury
4 Archangel
2 Angel of Fury
4 Alabaster Dragon
4 Spiritual Guardian
4 Breath of Life
4 Royal Trooper
4 Armored Griffin
4 Just Fate
4 Tidings
4 Omen
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Man-o’-war
4 Screeching Drake
2 Balance of Power
4 Flux
1 Personal Tutor
4 Prosperity
4 Untamed Wilds
4 Spoils of Victory
4 Hunting Cheetah
4 Hurricane
4 Needle Storm
2 Wild Ox
2 River Bear
1 Lynx
4 Fire Ambush
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Earthquake
4 Fire Imp
4 Corrupt Eunuchs
4 Blaze
4 Forked Lightning
4 Thundermare
4 Gravedigger
4 Predatory Nightstalker
4 Ambition’s Cost
4 Ancient Craving
4 Dakmor Lancer
4 Serpent Assassin
4 Hand of Death
4 Cruel Edict
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Dark Offering
4 Wei Assassins
4 Arrogant Vampire
4 Brutal Nightstalker
14 Forest
25 Plains
20 Island
18 Mountain
25 Swamp

Okay, let’s take a look at the deck.

I started by minimizing Green. Traditionally in my Five decks, I try to emphasize Green for its color sorting ability, but in this deck, only two cards can get you any land, and Hunting Cheetah can grab you lands from your deck and perhaps help your colors as well. Well, that’s only 12 cards, and I had to stretch to get to 25 cards in the color. I minimized the color and removed any card that had double Green from the color (like Elven Cache). I added Hurricane and Needle Storm as flying killers, but I have a lot of flyers myself, so I didn’t want to do that, but I didn’t have a lot of options for good cards with a single Green mana in the cost. I then added a few land walkers and called it a day.

If I wanted to play the color without regard to price, I would have gone with both horsemanship people like Lady Zhurong and beaters like Deathcoil Wurm. Instead, I kept the color cheap and light. Hunting Cheetah has a price of some significance to it, but mana smoothing was so important, I kept it in.

My Blue was similar. Here I was able to fit in some card drawing, but except for a couple of Balance of Power and the essential Tidings, I kept out the double Blue stuff. I would have loved to toss in Djinn of the Lamp and Air Elemental and a few other cards, but I felt my mana was too weak. Instead, I looked at cards like Omen, Sleight of Hand, Flux, Prosperity, and Screeching Drake’s looter ability to help me find the cards I need. I then added a single copy of Personal Tutor, which is still at a decent price, and then rounded it out with Man-o’-War. The last card I cut from my deck was Symbol of Unsummoning, because I wanted to limit Blue and expand on White and Black, but that’s a solid card in this environment.

Red was a nice place to find some great removal. Earthquake can be a source of fine card advantage, and perhaps Forked Lightning will help. Corrupt Eunuchs and Fire Imp can provide some nice CIP/ETB abilities and a body to help with the red zone. Fire Ambush, Volcanic Hammer and Blaze are perfectly acceptable forms of burn for the format, and I rounded it out with Thundermare. I needed some beaters, and I didn’t want to run the expensive double Red mana dragons which cost a lot of money, so I stuck with the cheap and effective Thundermare. There are no Red cards that cost double Red in the deck, so no Lava Flow or similar cards.

I emphasized White and Black, and allowed many cards that cost double mana of each into the deck. Some of those were virtually essential anyway, so it gave me an opportunity to be well rounded. There is a ton of removal in here, for cards like Hand of Death, Just Fate, Path of Peace, and Dark Offering take out one creature each. Dakmor Lancer and Serpent Assassin are basically Nekrataals and kill creatures while give me a creature. I have Cruel Edict, the ETB/CIP Edict creature Predatory Nightstalker along with Wei Assassins. Note that they no longer have the same Oracle ability. Wei Assassins is a destroy ability, but the Nightstalker still Edicts.

I also have Wrath of God and Righteous Fury for sweeping removal. Each of these can take out many creatures and provide some card advantage. I then started rounding things out. I needed more card drawing, so both Ambition’s Cost and Ancient Craving were added. I needed some aggressive winning creatures, so I added Archangel, Angel of Fury, Arrogant Vampire, and Alabaster Dragon. Great defensive creatures include Temple Acolyte, Champion Lancer, Spiritual Guardian and Angel of Mercy (which can also be a flying beater).

I rounded things off with a set of flying, vigilance Armored Griffins, reanimation in Breath of Life and Gravedigger, and discard with Ravenous Rats and Brutal Nightstalker.

My final choices included Wall of Swords and Royal Trooper. I love them both, and I especially love Royal Trooper after getting him in a lot of drafts of Masters Edition sets online.

In addition to Wall of Swords, a couple of other cards that I considered were Wall of Granite and Angelic Wall for defense, since both are strong.

I like Stream of Acid as a nice Befoul and Lava Flow as a nice Fissure. Both Famine and Dakmor Plague were considered for their Pestilence ability, as were Magma Giant and Pyroclasm for weenie sweeping. Burning Cloak is a nice sorcery Shock with an extra ability that might not have been a bad addition at all.

I was looking at the cheap common horsemanship creatures, in order to have an elusive creature that could not be blocked. I thought about adding a few, but it didn’t feel right to me, so no go.

Cloud Dragon is way too expensive for a card that is just a dragon version of Cloud Djinn, so I didn’t include it. If it had been cheaper, I would have. I also would have rocked Djinn of the Lamp and Air Elemental and perhaps emphasized Blue a bit more. Other Blue cards missing include Temporal Manipulation, Sea Drake, Strategic Planning, and Capture of Jingzhou. If I were emphasizing Blue like this, I would have added Ancestral Memories. One of the final cards I cut was Theft of Dreams, because I need card drawing, but it is often too unreliable.

Dragons like Fire Dragon, Volcanic Dragon, Thunder Dragon and Brimstone Dragon could have given me a seriously awesome dragon theme, but they all have way too high a price tag for my tastes, except for Volcanic Dragon, which I pulled because of the double Red mana cost. Otherwise, it would have gone right in. Similarly, Ebon Dragon is too expensive for Black beaters

I also could have rocked a ton of rares from P3K, from Sun Ce, Young Conqueror to Lu Bu, Master at Arms. There is a cornucopia of great cards there, but I wanted to stick with the cheaper commons and uncommon from the set, and let the more expensive cards lie. Another card cut for cost is Cruel Tutor, which I could play up to four of. At a double digit price, however, I didn’t think it was worth admission.

I’m normally not a fan of cards like Prosperity, which give up way too much card advantage, but here? I don’t think you can get away without playing stuff like it and Flux.

The discard suite is probably among the weakest cards in the deck, but I wanted some more bodies, and more chances for a little bit of card advantage, and since I was playing Black anyway, I thought that tossing them in would give me a little extra power.

Note that the old sorceries that can only be played at certain times have been errata’d to instants, so they do not have synergy with in set Déjà Vu. It would not have been a bad choice for inclusion otherwise.

I steered clear of LD stuff like Wildfire, Devastation, Ravages of War and Armageddon, as well as the good stuff like Ogre Arsonist. This is because I like people not attacking me, and with a janky deck like this, I want to be friendly. However, a few in the deck for emergency situations that rhyme with Gaze of Pith would be nice. (Or things that rhyme with Lor Raven, Garakas, and Molrath’s Longfold, for example).

Alaborn Zealot and Loyal Sentry have a nice ability to keep stuff from attacking on the ground.

False Summoning was tempting, as a Remove Soul replacement in the sets. I decided to stay away from stuff that was too reactive, and focus mainly on the proactive stuff, but it could have made the cut easily.

Perhaps, with some more life gain, there would be a spot for something like Rain of Daggers in the deck.

There are some Royal Assassin creatures in the format — Steam Catapult and King’s Assassin, but they can only tap on your turn, before you attack, so I didn’t run them. There are there waiting for you to use them.

Sylvan Basilisk is pretty good, and you can combine it with the surprise RARE Alluring Scent, in order to kill a bunch of creatures out of nowhere.

One of the things I want you to notice is the deep quality of Portal. I know Portal got a reputation as the Candyland of Magic during its time, but there are a lot of quality cards to be found in the starter sets. Sure, there are clunkers here, like the Willow Elf. Click on the link, look it up. It’s the Merfolk of the Pearl Trident or Mons’ Goblin Raiders of Starter sets – a 1/1 Elf for G with no abilities. It’s never even been printed in a set outside of starter level Magic. It sucks. So yes, there is Vizzerdrix and Tainted Orgg, Willow Elf or Eager Cadet – we get it. However, underneath the sets are a ton of great cards. For example, look at Ogre Arsonist. If that were printed in M11, wouldn’t you play the crap out of it? It’s not even a power card from Portal, but it is pretty good.

Let’s be honest, if they were to print a new set, using just cards from Portal sets and a few cards from Starter that were new, wouldn’t you want to buy and play it? You’d get cards like Temporal Manipulation, Strategic Planning, Rolling Earthquake, Imperial Recruiter, Sea Drake, Grim Tutor, Brimstone Dragon, Burning of Xinye, Dong Zhou, Thunder Dragon, Ebon Dragon, Sun Ce, and maybe even Zodiac Dragon. Wouldn’t you want to buy that?

Oh, and it wouldn’t even violate the reprint policy.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed today’s little excursion through Portal-Land, and enjoyed the deck that was built. Catch you next week!

Until later…

Abe Sargent