Theros Draft: Five-Color Green

Reid Duke offers up a detailed primer on his favorite archetype in Theros Draft, Five-Color Green, which he used to win the Sunday Super Series event at #GPDC last weekend.

The nature of Theros Draft and of the heroic mechanic in particular causes many players to feel trapped into playing aggressive strategies. The allure of easy wins via Ordeals leads people into tight corners where their best way to win is putting all of their eggs in one basket and hoping for the best. I will readily admit that this is a valid approach that can certainly lead to wins, but it’s not the only strategy out there, nor is it my favorite one.

Instead, I like to focus on the powerful yet underappreciated control elements of Theros Limited. U/B Control with lots of removal and Mnemonic Walls is one archetype that is reasonably straightforward. One that is equally effective and might not be so obvious is Five-Color Green.

The Color Green

Green and black are traditionally my favorite colors in Limited. The cards tend to be very good individually and have a very direct and immediate impact on the game. I value having efficient meaty creatures, and backing them up with solid removal is the easiest way I’ve found to do well in Limited. Theros is no exception to this trend.

While green may not have a common on the power level of Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Wingsteed Rider, it is by far the deepest color in the format. Every common other than Defend the Hearth is playable under common circumstances, and there are about seven or eight commons that I’m always happy to put in my maindeck after any draft.

What really sets green apart though is that its cards are essentially universal. Any deck wants Nessian Asp, Voyaging Satyr, Leafcrown Dryad, Nessian Courser, etc. These cards are good on both offense and defense and pair well with anything. Green is a good color for heroic, and it’s also a good color for a slower late-game deck. Finally, as I’ll be discussing today, it has cards that open up exciting off-the-beaten-path strategies.

There are actually two different elements of green control that I’ll be discussing today. One is the five-color approach made possible by Nylea’s Presence, and one is the graveyard-based approach driven by Commune with the Gods. However, the two have so much overlap and complement one another so well that it feels natural to combine them. Just realize that by the definition I’m using "Five Color Green" can take many forms. Sometimes it might be only three or two colors; it might range from a dedicated graveyard deck to one with no graveyard interactions at all.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to bomb out of the main event at Grand Prix Washington DC. I entered the Super Sunday Series, which is a side event that qualifies the winner for an exclusive tournament at Wizards of the Coast’s headquarters in Seattle. In the Sealed Deck portion, I piloted a strong W/R Aggro deck and did well enough to make the Top 8, where I won the draft with the above deck—a prime example of Five-Color Green.

Bomb Rares

Yes, there are a lot of rares in that deck! Which brings me to my first lesson about the Five-Color Green archetype: it functions a lot better when you have one or more bomb rares.

Certainly I was fortunate to wind up with the collection of rares that I did, but it’s actually not uncommon at all to draft three or more playable rares when you set yourself up to do so. In fact, I only opened one of my five rares in this draft (Bow of Nylea in pack 2). If memory serves, I was passed Reaper of the Wilds pack 1 pick 2; Nighthowler pack 2 pick 2; Mistcutter Hydra pack 3 pick 4; and Underworld Cerberus pack 3 pick 6. My first pick of the draft was a modest Read the Bones.

In any set with gold cards, being passed rares is a very real benefit to drafting a slow multicolor deck. Recent examples are Gatecrash, full Return to Ravnica block, and of course Theros. In these Draft formats, it’s very common for a rare to be opened in a particular color combination that zero or only one person at the table is interested in. What’s more is that sometimes a very focused deck will pass an on-color rare if it doesn’t fit its theme (think of a hyperaggressive Gruul player passing a Gruul Ragebeast). By playing a slow multicolor deck, you set yourself up to splash any late-game bomb that you might be passed and consequently have a colossally higher chance of having one or more of these cards.

Theros also happens to have a number of multicolor uncommons that really stand out in terms of power level. Pharika’s Mender and Horizon Chimera are absolute premium cards that outclass most commons at their spot on the mana curve. Getting these cards late and being easily able to play with them is another benefit of drafting Five-Color Green.

Five-Color Green also happens to make the best use of rares of any archetype in Theros Draft. When you draft a white heroic deck, you might be very excited to open a Fabled Hero—and rightfully so! When you draw Fabled Hero in your opening hand and when your opponent does not kill it, it raises your chances of winning the game by a lot.

However, with Five-Color Green, you see a much higher portion of your deck in each game through Commune with the Gods, and the games generally just going longer. The rares you’re likely to have in your deck are excellent at any point that you draw them, so they will pay dividends in a very high percentage of games, not just when they’re in your opening hand. If we’re talking about creatures, you might also have ways to get multiple uses out of them via Pharika’s Mender or Rescue from the Underworld.

For all I’ve said about the possibility of being passed rares, it certainly doesn’t hurt to start with one early on. In fact, a rare will be the most common inspiration to start drafting Five-Color Green. Some of the rares that ought to pull you in this direction include Whip of Erebos, Bow of Nylea, Abhorrent Overlord, Reaper of the Wilds, Prophet of Kruphix, and Underworld Cerberus. These are either cards that are good in graveyard strategies or slower multicolor rares; they all share the trait of being good in slower decks.

Commune with the Gods

It was my friend and teammate Sam Black that first piqued my interest in the G/B graveyard strategy. In the very first draft that Team StarCityGames did with Theros before even the official release, Sam drafted a deck centered around Commune with the Gods. To take advantage of them, he had Nemesis of Mortals, Pharika’s Mender, and Rescue from the Underworld—the latter being particularly effective with Nylea’s Disciple and Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

Sam showed us that it was possible to draft a slow value-based deck in Theros. I couldn’t wait to try the archetype for myself. The more I played, the more I liked it, and the more exciting things I found to do with the graveyard.

Commune with the Gods is a good Magic card. In a very basic deck, I would try not to play with it because it requires an investment of two mana and merely replaces itself. (There’s also the very small chance of missing a creature or enchantment, which does come up and is quite devastating). However, it only takes a little bit of value to push Commune well into the realm of being playable.

I’ve already touched on the possible benefits of filling up your graveyard. The common and uncommon cards to look for are Nemesis of Mortals, Pharika’s Mender, Rescue from the Underworld, March of the Returned, Spellheart Chimera, and Mnemonic Wall. The second effect of Commune with the Gods is its ability to dig towards your bombs. If you simply have a few cards that stand out as much more powerful than the rest of your deck, spending two mana to dig towards them can be a price well worth paying.

Nylea’s Presence

Much like Commune with the Gods, I would try not to play with Nylea’s Presence in a two-color deck, but I also wouldn’t shed a tear if I was short on playables and had to do so. Fixing your mana and cycling is a fine effect, so when you factor in the possibility of splashing a bomb that you might pick up later in the draft I consider it quite beneficial to draft Nylea’s Presences.

A hidden benefit of Nylea’s Presence is its contribution to green devotion. Considering that Nylea’s Disciple is one of the lynchpin defensive cards of Five-Color Green, this interaction can add up quickly and changes the value of both cards. Karametra’s Acolyte is also a card that’s worth paying attention to, as it has the potential to be very powerful when your deck winds up with a lot of late-game mana sinks.

I also like the way that Nylea’s Presence pairs up with Unknown Shores, another card that you’re likely to use in Five-Color Green. A common criticism of Unknown Shores is that it forces you to play your spells off curve and is therefore not ideal to serve as mana fixing for expensive double mana-cost spells like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Prognostic Sphinx. However, if your hand calls for it, simply cast Nylea’s Presence on your Unknown Shores and erase the downfall. If you have a Presence, you’re likely in good shape in terms of mana fixing and just want to make sure things are running as smoothly as possible. If your opening hand is something like Forest, Swamp, Unknown Shores, Nylea’s Presence, and three other spells, this can be a great play.

The Strengths of Five-Color Green

A Five-Color Green deck will be based in either mono-green, G/B if you’ve chosen to include some graveyard synergies, or sometimes G/U. I’ve already mentioned one of the main strengths of the archetype, which is bomb rares. You set yourself up to be passed them more often in the draft and to make better use of them once they’re in your deck.

Generally speaking, Five-Color Green is going to be full of cards that are individually powerful and impactful, which is a refreshing change of pace from the more fragile and swingy heroic decks. You have card advantage in the form of cards like Pharika’s Mender and access to plenty of monstrosity creatures to ensure that you never flood out.

In the early game, all you need to worry about is surviving since you know that you can win in the late game. Large blockers, removal, and life gain from Nylea’s Disciple, Gray Merchant, and Time to Feed help you do this. You don’t have to worry about your opponent gaining a bunch of life from a bestowed creature because at a certain point you will turn the corner and your monstrosity creatures will be the biggest on the battlefield.

The Weaknesses of Five-Color Green

In reality, Five-Color Green is a rock-solid archetype that is very difficult for an opponent to attack. Perhaps rather than calling these "weaknesses" I should call them "common pitfalls," which only take a little bit of attention to avoid.

The first is that the archetype is naturally slow so you need to protect yourself from a quick rush. Ideally, you will have a healthy mix of mana ramping (Voyaging Satyr is perfect), life gain (Nylea’s Disciple), and some cheap defensive creatures (Sedge Scorpion).

The second is flying creatures. Make sure you pick Leafcrown Dryad and Nessian Asp quite high as well as the efficient removal spells. Life gain also helps with this problem, but make sure you have the ability to close a game also if it comes down to a racing situation.

Finally, be careful not to be blown out by bounce spells like Voyage’s End and Sea God’s Revenge. Since most of your creatures will be expensive and many of them will have monstrosity, there’s the potential to be set back quite badly be these cards. Beyond the defensive measures already mentioned, this is mostly about being careful during gameplay. Think hard about how many blockers to leave back, and try not to let your opponent set up too threatening of an army.

Pick Order (Commons & Uncommons)

As you might imagine, a strict pick order for Five-Color Green is a difficult thing to produce since there are a wide variety of ways the finished product can turn out. Some cards skyrocket in value as you move more towards a graveyard theme. Some cards are worth splashing if you already have mana fixing but should be ignored otherwise.

What I can offer you is a very rough pick order of the cards that you should pay attention to for the Five-Color Green archetype. This is how you should value the cards early in the draft before you know exactly what your deck will look like. I’ve also offered a tier system and what each card should mean to you.

Tier 1

First-pick cards that happen to be good in Five-Color Green.

1. Keepsake Gorgon
2. Gray Merchant of Asphodel
3. Nemesis of Mortals

Tier 2

Premium cards that you should pick highly if you want the option to go Five-Color Green.

4. Griptide / Lightning Strike / Magma Jet: Five-Color Green is not often based in white, blue, or red, but you might as well pick these cards early and can still splash them if you decide to move into Five-Color Green.
5. Read the Bones
6. Leafcrown Dryad
7. Voyaging Satyr
8. Nessian Asp
9. Baleful Eidolon
10. Sea God’s Revenge: Not at its absolute best in Five-Color Green, but a powerful card that can be splashed if you want.
11. Nylea’s Disciple
12. Time to Feed
13. Pharika’s Cure: Be wary of the double-black mana cost because you’ll typically want nine Forests at a bare minimum.
14. Lash of the Whip
15. Horizon Chimera: It’s not ideal to pick a gold card early, but the Chimera is very strong and is splashable even in G/B.
16. Rescue from the Underworld
17. Pharika’s Mender

Tier 3

Cards to round out your Five-Color Green deck but need not be picked highly.

18. Nylea’s Emissary
19. Erebos’s Emissary
20. Insatiable Harpy
21. Nessian Courser
22. Centaur Battlemaster: Five-Color Green doesn’t need to have a heroic theme, but there’s no rule that says it can’t! The best cards to trigger heroic are Time to Feed and bestow creatures.
23. Disciple of Phenax
24. Sip of Hemlock
25. Agent of Horizons: It’s great that he can be cast early for green mana and activated off a splash in the late game.
26. Sedge Scorpion
27. Artisan’s Sorrow
28. Nylea’s Presence: This will skyrocket in value once you have a card you want to splash.
29. Commune with the Gods: This will gradually increase in value as you get bombs and cards that use the graveyard.
30. Burnished Hart: A slow card, but very powerful for fixing and generating large quantities of mana for monstrosity.
31. Staunch-Hearted Warrior
32. Opaline Unicorn
33. Dark Betrayal: Five-Color Green has great sideboard options as well!
34. Karametra’s Acolyte
35. Destructive Revelry
36. Fade Into Antiquity: If you can, get two enchantment removal spells for your sideboard. Feel free to maindeck one if you want.
37. Vulpine Goliath: A solid creature, but won’t be needed if you get the Asps, Nemesises, and rares that you’re hoping for.
38. Unknown Shores
39. Shredding Winds
40. Traveler’s Amulet

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful, and I hope you’ll try out my favorite archetype in Theros Draft! You’ll find it a very safe and consistent strategy but one that can also have very high rewards and limitless possibilities. Look for a Draft video next week where I show in real time how I like to draft Five-Color Green!