We’ve got a two-part article here today. The first part describes the evolution of my current (reasonably) competitive 5color deck. The second part was going to be a further discussion of the problems with Contract from Below and ante, but I replaced that with a brief tourney report on making Top 4 in a 5color Worlds qualifier. I’ll talk about ante some other time.
For a long time I resisted 5color. I had too many of my good cards – like all my dual lands – in other decks. I still played those decks, so I tried building five color decks with Invasion lands and random uncommons. My first decks were all about dropping weird creatures, like Lord of Tresserhorn and Mundungu. I drew cards with Xira Arien. My beatdown would be cards like Sibilant Spirit and Benthic Djinn.
Needless to say, I lost a lot of games.
The trouble was that I was dinking around casting magical spells and fantastic creatures while my opponent was busy winning the game. Chad Ellis wrote a classic piece about “The Danger Of Cool Things” – my deck was all about cool plays, and not at all about winning.
Finally, I started putting a few duals in my 5 and making the build a bit more streamlined. I ran some permission and made my mana curve tighter. I found I could race in some games, but if I drew the fun cards, or stalled, the opposing decks would gain control and crush me. Large parts of my deck were still about dinking around.
Mike Flores would probably say this a lot more elegantly, but I was forgetting a cardinal part of deck design – it wasn’t all about what I was doing. Magic is all about having your deck do it’s thing before, during or despite what your opponent is doing. Magic is all about doing it to your opponent before he (or she) does it to you.
My deck really wasn’t incredibly fast. It was a lean, mean racing machine – towing a big trailer full of fat garbage. I had to face it – Mundungu does not race.
I could have streamlined it and built something that did race. Flat mana curves, abundant cheap creatures, burn and enough card drawing to keep the engine going, but beatdown is not my style of Magic. I leave that to others.
I could also have built a control deck – well, in theory. First of all, I was not willing to include power, Mana Drains and so forth in my 5 – which meant I had no real chance to compete with the real control decks. The opposing decks were too good, the players were too good, and I was too inexperienced in the format.
I made a brief attempt at adding a few counters, like Evasive Action and Dromar’s Charm, to my build, but I clearly could not win with counters. At least, not trying to use counters to control my opponents. That would only work if I was willing to add power to my deck, and I wasn’t.
Finally, I looked hard at my deck. I was trying to drop assorted small creatures, then race. My small and utility creature mix was fine, but I lost when my opponents got enough mana to drop a monster on me, or Wrath twice, or cycle Decree of Justice or Stroke themselves for eight, or whatever. The problem was the mana curve – my lack of duals and so forth meant that I had bad mana, and unless I could make them have bad mana, too, I was in trouble.
On the flip side, most opposing decks expected to have a reasonable mana supply, and eventually to have a lot of mana available. Shutting down their mana messed with their game plans. Again, Flores would have some elegant way of saying it, but basically I was trying to find a way to make them play my game, while not playing theirs. Mana denial looked like the way to go.
The first eight rares I added to my 5color deck – at least in sets of four – were Winter Orb and Armageddon. You can’t have mana. I can’t have mana. Of course, I don’t really need any. Besides, Mundungu is good when I’ve got you mana screwed. (Okay, not really good, but Mundungu is really annoying when you’re mana screwed.)
Building around Winter Orb meant designing a deck that ran on two or three mana – and without lands to the extent possible. That meant I had to cut all the fat creatures – anything that cost more than three was on the chopping block. I hated to cut Sol’Kanar, but it went. So did Phyrexian Plaguelord and all the cute cards. (It’s amazing how much your win percentage improves when you stop playing Sibilant Spirit.) Even Etched Oracle got the axe.
However, Armageddon and Winter Orb are not enough to control the game by themselves. I needed more. I added four Impending Disasters, plus a pair of Cataclysms and twin Ruinations. I included three Raze, to take out target lands like Maze of Ith and Library of Alexandria, and a full four Vindicates. (I tried Reap and Sow, and Creeping Mold, but the costs were too high.) I ran five creatures that kill lands – 4 Dwarven Blastminers and one Orcish Settlers. (I don’t run Avalanche Riders, because, again, they cost just a bit too much.) That landkill is in addition to a full set of Wastelands, two Dustbowls and a Strip Mine.
I was – and still am – playing Terravores. They had been in the casual deck I trashed to get the Armageddons, and I figured I would bring them along. Terravore is a blast in a multiplayer game, once I ‘geddon. In 5color, they are also at least reasonable – the players with money run lots of fetchlands, and the kids run Harrow, so there are always some lands in the graveyard. Even without the land kill, Terravores usually enter play as at least a 3/3 trampler for three mana, and are typically larger. Together with the land kill suite, they are huge. Besides, they are the signature creature for my deck, so if you don’t like them, tough.
The second component to the deck had to be artifact mana. I obviously ran (Time out. I’m switching verb tense here. This is what I first ran. It’s what I still run. Okay, back to the article…) I run the standard set of four Fellwar Stones, four Mind Stones and a Sol Ring. In addition, I also run four Mox Diamonds. They are bad when my opponent has mox monkeys, but they do get a land into the graveyard to feed Terravore, they give me all five colors and they live through Armageddon. Since the deck is already land heavy to provide a comeback after Armageddons, they work. For similar reasons, I run Darksteel Ingots – not a great card, but an indestructible mana source which is often needed. That makes 17 mana artifacts – which means I can usually count on some mana after killing all the lands.
In addition to the mana artifacts, I run mana creatures. Birds of Paradise are a given, but I also have two (very marginal) Utopia Trees. I run four Werebears. Early on, Werebears are a bit of extra mana. Later on, they are 4/4s for 1G. I round the suite out with Sakura-Tribe Elders. I have tried a few Walls of Roots, but I’m not too happy with them and they are currently out.
I also run 4 Darksteel Citadels. They survive all the Armageddons and Ruinations. Having that extra mana after sweeping the board has been important quite often.
I run four Trinket Mages and a suite of artifacts to fetch with them. I run one Skullclamp, one Engineered Explosives, one Zuran Orb, one Phyrexian Furnace and one Tormod’s Crypt. Trinket Mage can also fetch a Mox Diamond or a Darksteel Citadel – and the Citadel is my most common target.
I run a fairly large creature control suite. The non-creature suite includes four Swords to Plowshares, four Fire / Ice, two Diabolic Edicts and a Chainer’s Edict, plus the four Vindicates mentioned above. On the creature side, I run four Flametongue Kavus, two Bone Shredders and two Masticores. The Bone Shredders are marginal, but they work with Unearth – which works with Terravore.
At present, I am running a full set of Quiet Speculations, together with four Roar of the Wurm and three Deep Analysis, plus the Recoup and Chainer’s Edict. Sometimes that’s useful, but I almost never have had the need and opportunity to flash back Chainer’s Edict. I generally find myself burying a Roar and a pair of Deep Analysis – which makes me wonder whether it might make more sense to play more card drawing in these slots. I will probably change the suite to four Brainstorm and three Impulse – and replace the Roars with Call of the Herd or Etched Oracles. Card drawing is more important than beatsticks, and although the Roar tokens are very big, I would almost always rather draw Impulse or Brainstorm over Quiet Speculation.
The deck has a mixed bag of win conditions, in addition to the Terravores. I run four Shadowmage Infiltrators to draw cards. I run four Blastoderms because untargetable beatsticks are good. I run four River Boas, who spend half the time regenerating and the other half sucking away my opponent’s life total. Finally, I run three Psychatogs, four Mystic Enforcers and four Serendib Efreets. The Enforcers are the flying beatdown that usually wins the game. I cannot begin to count how often a Mystic Enforcer hit the table turn 3 or 4, then got big the next turn when an Armageddon and a bunch of lands hit the graveyard.
I am trying to find room for four Lightning Greaves, but I have only squeezed in three. Greaves is a very important method of protecting the Terravores, as well as speeding up the kill.
Since I run a lot of creatures, I run Aura Shards as a means of killing both enchantments and artifacts – especially mana artifacts. I have also tried a couple kill-your-enchantment Kamis (okay Ted, Kami of the Ancient Law.) The Kamis really only shine against stuff like the Worldgorger Dragon combo decks, since they have to deal with the Kami before going off. One Viridian Zealot has floated in and out of the deck at times – but mainly out.
The lands are pretty straightforward. I run a full twenty fetchlands, since they fix colors, fetch duals and feed Terravores. I only run about 30 dual lands – the rest are in use in other decks. I run three or four Darksteel Citadels, four Cities of Brass, three Reflecting Pools and an assortment of non-basics to fetch with SK Tribe Elders and Kodama’s Reach. I run a couple cycling lands. The cyclers are slow, but they draw cards and feed Terravore, so they make the list – but just barely. I should note that I am trying Gemstone Mines in the deck, and they may replace the Cities, or supplement them.
There are several broken cards I should really include, but just don’t have room. Tainted Pact leads that list – as soon as I find something I’m not happy with, they’ll go in.
That’s the deck – now for some matchup info. The metagame for 5-color is a little tricky to understand – correction – it is a little tricky to easily classify all the decks – but it exists. Here’s my quick overview.
Tier One Combo
“Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t beat Academy….I got to play Type 1 against a sea of powered out Extended decks. That makes for a good, face-smashing weekend!” Pat Fehling, from his report on winning 5color Worlds this year. I occasionally play Pat. He plays for ante – but at quarter a card buyback. For me, these games are strictly pay-to-play. On a lucky day, I might win one in seven games – and often do worse than that. His deck has a ton of counters, a lot of card drawing and a bunch of winning combos. I can often control either his land or artifact mana – but rarely both. That means I have to get lucky – I win only if I kill the lands and draw a fast beater, and he draws no artifact mana. Alternatively, I can occasionally cheese a win, usually by wishing for a strange sideboard card like Seeds of Innocence or Simoon, in exactly the right circumstances – provided I get the spell to actually resolve in the face of all his counters.
Tier One Control
I looked over the 5color website trying to link to Jim Hustad’s Worlds list, but I could not find it. It is just a good balance of what you would expect: power, card drawing, Wrath, counters, and a few win conditions. Think of this archetype as a really tall (250 cards tall) version of Weisman’s classic “The Deck.” Playing against this sort of deck depends a lot on who is playing it. Against Hustad, I have practically no chance. Against someone less practiced with the archetype, you can often bait out counterspells with beatdown creatures and lesser threats, and then force an Armageddon effect through. It also helps to get an early mox monkey down, to eat artifact mana, but the Armageddon effect is key. After that, you can often develop faster, especially if you have a Darksteel Ingot or Citadel. If you can resolve the first ‘geddon, you can usually force through the second, and then you win. Getting an Impending Disaster down on turn one or two really helps – then you can eventually force a ‘geddon simply by playing lands.
Aggro decks thrive on small, fast creatures with evasion, plus some burn and a bit of card drawing to refill the hand. Common evasion creatures are things like River Boa, Serendib Efreet, Dauthi Marauder, or pure speed like Savannah Lions and Jackal Pup. Many aggro decks also run creatures that trigger off lands, like Kird Ape, Skyshroud Elite and Skyshroud Warbeast. Armageddon does bad things to these creatures. In general, Armageddon hits these decks hard. They don’t have counters to stop ‘geddons, nor the card drawing to recover well from losing their lands. If you can control the initial rush, my deck will drop larger creatures and take control. Removal is key here – especially two for ones like Flametongue Kavu and Fire/Ice. Obviously, the better the aggro deck is built, the harder the matchup – but I like my odds against most aggro decks.
Control w/ big creatures
I have played against a few decks with a good cards, like Mana Drain, plus mana acceleration and a host of large creatures. The secret here is not to let the other decks get too far ahead on card drawing. If they don’t outdraw you heavily, you can force through a Armageddon effect. After that, you can recover and just win. The turning point is often turns like these: River Boa? (Countered.) Terravore? (countered), Impending Disaster? (countered) (next turn): Ruination? (countered), Armageddon? resolves. Unearth targeting Terravore? resolves. Equip with Greaves and win. The Greaves are pretty important here, since these decks usually have more targeted removal than mass removal.
It’s hard to deal with the really fast Reanimator decks when they get a broken start, but if they don’t explode, then land destruction can mess them up. Their decks are often designed to put a bunch of cards into the graveyard – including lands that feed Terravores. Getting lucky with Swords, Diabolic Edict and Vindicates can also help. I haven’t had all that much opportunity to play against this archetype, but I have done okay against the tier-two players with this deck.
Good Stuff decks
These are the backbone of fun 5color – the decks that have a ton of good cards that are there because the players like them. Sol’kanar, the Swamp King is the perfect example for this sort of deck. Sol’kanar is a very cost effective creature, and can win games quickly, but it is not quite in the same league as Decree of Justice, Recycle or Myr Incubator. My deck matches up pretty well here, since these decks generally don’t like land destruction, but it’s hard to generalize about this classification. This is basically a catch-all category.
Bad Stuff Decks and Random Scrub Piles
I win. Actually, against these decks I pull out my 5color version of “The Rock,” or even my no rares 5color. Most new players don’t play enough lands in any case – so land destruction is even more effective than usual. New five color players, who rarely have duals and fetchlands, are probably going to be slow because of color screw. My deck is pretty well tuned, has the duals, so it is going to be several turns faster than these decks. No contest.
Bonus Tournament Report
I played this deck in the 5color qualifier in Madison. We had twelve players, including Hustad and Fehling. We played four rounds of swiss, cut to Top 4. I played the deck described above, with Impulses, Etched Oracles and Brainstorms replacing the Quiet Speculation suite. I also added a Tainted Pact for some overpriced card I didn’t mention above, and cut the Orcish Settler for a cool foreign Trench Wurm. I finished third after the Swiss, losing only one match, and going 1-2 in that one. Actually, I went 1-2 or 2-1 in every match, if I recall.
Rd 1: Brian Ramirez, Reanimator
I was trying a new idea – a pair of Trench Wurms – and they destroyed his mana base. Eventually, they, plus an FTK, went all the way. Game two began with some ridiculous FTK action – I drew three, while he drew one – but reanimated it twice. At one point, he had a Birds of Paradise and three dual lands in play. I had four mana sources, plus a Swords to Plowshares in hand. He cast Animate Dead targeting Arcanis. I figured I was fine, since I would untap, use my Orim’s Thunder to target the Animate Dead, killing Arcanis, and taking out the Birds with the kicker. However, he used his last two mana to cast Time Walk. He untapped, drew four cards, Wasted my only White source, then played Contract and so forth. I never quite caught up. Game three, however, had me randomly drawing my Phyrexian Furnace to keep reanimation under control while keeping him mana screwed and eventually winning with random creatures.
Round 2: Ben Rasmussen, Tog
I resolved an Armageddon one game, and failed to resolve it in the third. The second was a long, complex monster of a game with a lot of counters and swings. He got Oath of Druids down, and Pernicious Deed shortly thereafter. I had a Birds, so he Oathed up an Ancestors Chosen to put himself at 41 life. I later chumped with the Birds, then Oathed – flipping Brainstorm into the graveyard and revealing Nantuko Vigilante. I was steamed – the Brainstorm was the first card drawer I had seem all game, and the Vigilante was the enchantment kill I needed to clear out Oath – but only if I cast it as a Morph. However, it chumped, and I Oathed up Terravore. I had a Lightning Greaves in play, so I tried for Armageddon. It was countered. Then I swung, and he had to blow the Deed since the Terravore was already a 11/11 (just because of Wastelands and fetchlands.) That blew away the Oath, but we each had about 15 lands in play, and he had drawn a lot more cards. I made a run of it, but it wasn’t enough. I remember finally baiting enough counters to get my Contract to resolve, but I drew five lands and two useless spells – although that may have been in one of the fun games played afterwards. Close, but no cigar.
Round 3: Josh Tabak – Academy
Josh is the king of lucky draws, and proved it game one. He opened with Gemstone Mine, Sol Ring, Talisman. I started with a Taiga, Mox, Wall of Roots and Birds, then he Crop Rotated the Gemstone for Academy, played Bayou and dropped Oath of Druids on his turn 2. Then his luck stalled, and he Oathed up Weathered Wayfarer and Goblin Welder without any artifacts in either graveyard. He attacked, and I chumped with the Birds, then Oathed up a threat of my own – I think it was Shadowmage Infiltrator. I don’t remember a lot of this match, except that land kill wrecked his Academy and colored mana, and Aura Shards wrecked his Oath and artifacts. I won.
Round 4: Jeremy (Zombor on 5color.com) – Enchantress Combo.
This isn’t really Enchantress – it is card drawing using Enchantress, Horn of Greed, Recycle and so forth to find Mirari’s Wake and Mana Flare, then create a hoard of tokens using Decree of Justice. Game one I started reasonably quickly, drawing cards off a Shadowmage Infiltrator, but he slowed it with a Paralyze. I got some land and an Ingot, but he dropped Mana Flare and Enchantress’s Presence. I counted my lands, then tapped the Ingot for Vampiric Tutor, dug out my Desolation Angel and kickered it to free us from the burden of having lands in play. He had a Stifle, but I then played out Winter Orb and cast Impending Disaster off an Ingot and a Mindtone. With lands about to vanish and a five-power flier in play, he scooped. It didn’t hurt that he had a Recycle in play, two expensive cards in hand and no lands untapped.
Game two, I got a quick start with Birds and a Kami of the Ancient Law, but he dropped a Seal of Fire and I ended up trading the Kami for an Enchantress’s Presence. I also managed to kill a Horn of Greed, but I was one step behind all game. I slowed the game with Winter Orb, but he dropped Chaos Orb on my Impending Disaster. Finally, after a long give and take, he got Hermit Druid and activated it to dump his entire library into his graveyard, then Recouped his shiny Replenish. That brought back a bunch of Treacheries on my random creature (thereby untapping all his lands), plus some Mirari’s Wakes and Mana Flares. He would then have flashed back Krosan Reclamation to put enough cards into his library to kill me with the tokens Decree of Justice would have produced – but I was already shuffling for the next game.
Game three I rode his mulligan into a hand with Wall of Roots, Mindtone and Aura Shards. I drew a Birds and dropped it turn 1. He dropped Library of Alexandria, but thanks to his mulligan, he didn’t have enough cards in hand to activate it. I played a Wall of Roots and the Mindtone turn 2. He drew, activated Library and played a land. I got Aura Shards into play, then dropped a Shadowmage to kill a Horn of Greed the turn after that. He played his third and fourth lands, then played Abundance. I topdecked my one Desolation Angel – a really pretty Chinese one, but still the only one in my deck, and had my fifth land. The Angel resolved, the kicker killed all the lands and Aura Shards killed the Abundance. Four turns later, Jeremy still had no permanents, and nothing but a finger for the Angel.
I was third after the Swiss. At this point, it was 12:30 in the morning, the night before Thanksgiving. Since I was getting up at 6am to drive to a family get-together, I had a sudden vision of falling asleep facedown in the mashed potatoes if I played this out. I wasn’t about to give my sister that kind of ammunition in our sibling rivalry and a friend was in fifth place, so I dropped to put him into the top four. Had I stayed in, I think I had a good shot at winning the Mox Crystal, but that’s life.
I did play a few games with my other 5color deck – one built around Time of Need and random Legends. If people are interested, I can write about that as well. I also want to talk about Contract from Below and ante, but I’ll do that next time – this is already pretty long.