Monday, June 1, 2009

Grim Tidings #1: 5-Color Primer

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

5-color Magic is regarded by some as the most electrifying format in all of magic. It has been gaining popularity in the Triangle over the past year, with many new players experimenting with the original "Big Deck" format.

5-Color Deck-building Criteria:
Here is the basic skinny: 5-color decks must contain a minimum of 250 cards, with at least 20 cards of each color.

That doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? Its not. Really. In fact, the minimal amount of trouble you’ll experience is deciding which cards NOT to include!

Although some decks do run powerful cards such as Ancestral Recall & Library of Alexandria, not every deck has to run the Power-9 to be as efficient. Remember, there are 250 cards your dealing with… the chances of drawing Ancestral Recall in a 60-card deck is 1/60, or about 1.7%. The chances of drawing Ancestral Recall in a 5-Color deck is 1/250, or 0.04%. That is a fairly small percentage, not enough to let it be a barrier to constructing a deck in this format.

The 3 Biggest Misconceptions:
There’s a common misconception that 5-Color equivalent to Prismatic. Nope, not true. Prismatic is an online knock-off that only uses the extended card pool. 5-Color is a real life format that uses all legal expansions. You can choose from any expansion set, barring Unglued and Unhinged.

There is another misconception that 5-Color equals 250-card Vintage. It can be, but in most cases its not anywhere close. Additionally, while its true that many cards appear on both formats Banned & Restricted lists, you’ll find many other cards that are actually legal in 5 (example: Fact or Fiction). And then you’ll find others that are too lopsided in a big deck format so they are restricted in 5 (example: Battle of Wits). The fact is, that when you play a 250 card deck, there is an irregularity of finding answers when you need them. By their nature, 250 card decks are less consistent, and are somewhat subject to random top decking. While this can be frustrating, it can also lead to some of the most exciting and memorable turns in your Magic career. For more information, the current 5-color Banned & Restricted List is posted at

The final misconception is that all 5-color games are played for ante. This used to be true, but is not anymore. The ante cards are optional, but only legal if all players agree to it. I personally don’t prefer it, although I’ve played for it in the past.

5-Color Deck-building Starting Point:
Its pretty easy to pick a central theme and flesh it out for 250 cards. I did some pretty wacky stuff in the past with Slivers or Mishra or Wild Pair or Control or Enchantress that made 5C very fun to play. Conversely, you can just assemble 250 of the best cards and build a deck like the Essentials and shuffle up. These kind of decks are great for multi-player, becuase they are resilient, tend to have answers, and are fairly forgiving. Even if you sputter out occasionally, you'll have fun doing so.

5-Color Deck-building Advice:
The key to good 5-Color decklists is mana-fixing, board-control, tutoring, and card drawing. If you can build a deck with a healthy mix of these features, you’ll be OK. (I'll expand on these points in future articles perhaps, but this will give you some ideas to help you with your intial builds).

Play with around 90 to 100 lands and/or mana sources.
Play with dual lands. Obviously the originals (from beta) are the best, but Wizards of the Coast prints so many spin-off versions, you have plenty of other options. From Onslaught’s Fetch-lands, to Shadowmoor’s Hybrid-lands, to Ravnica’s Shock-lands, to Ice Age’s Pain-lands, there are plenty of choices to help smooth the manabase out.
Also, consider cards like: Terramorphic Expanse, Gemstone Mine, Vivid Lands, Shards Tri-lands, Birds of Paradise, Noble Heirarch, Utopia Tree, Scuttlemutt, Gemhide Sliver, Prismatic Omen, Scapeshift, Fellwar Stone, Darksteel Ingot, Shards Obelisks.

Board Control
Consider cards like: Balance, Wrath of God, Pernicious Deed, Kirtar’s Wrath, Earthquake, Savage Twister , Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Condemn, Nekrataal, Shriekmaw, Flametongue Kavu, Thornscape Battlemage.

Consider cards like: Demonic Tutor, Beseech the Queen, Diabolic Tutor, Tainted Pact, Any of the Ravnica Transmute Cards (Make sure to check the B&R List though!!!), Trinket Mage, Weathered Wayfarer, Gamekeeper.

Card Draw
Consider cards like: Wheel of Fortune, Fact or Fiction, Skullclamp, Windfall, Harmonize, Mulldrifter, Merfolk Looter, Wall of Blossoms.

5-Color Deck-building Tricks:
Consider using a lot of Hybrids. They count as either color, so you can meet the 20 card of each color requirement without getting your manabase to support it. Red has always been a tough color to find twenty good cards with. Perhaps there are 10 b/r hybrids and 10 r/g hybrids that might cut out mountains from your deck altogether. Still legal, but easier to manage.

First Reminder ‘08
Ive been playing the 5-color format for about 6 years now. At times I’ve had 2 or 3 unique 5-Color decks in my possession. This is somewhere between the 3rd and/or 4th real incarnation of my original Grim Reminder deck. The initial concept was assembled in 2003. Its hard for me to say really when this deck was born and each version died, as it was (and still is) constantly changing. Each week I find myself tweaking and adding-in or taking out on a whim. When new expansion sets come out, an new batch of cards get a test-drive. At one point it had over 750 cards, all of which (except for one) were highlander!

Most interestingly, my deck is (very nearly) a highlander deck. The only card included in multiples of is the namesake, Grim Reminder. I chose to make this deck a (near) highlander build so I could maximize the potential targets of actually resolving a Grim Reminder at any point during the game. Afterall, the more unique card names my deck contains, the more chances I will have the card you just played in your deck! The highlander deck construction rule is a completely self-imposed deck construction limitation.

Additionally, I choose to keep the deck in its current form to mitigate the brokenness of some of the power-cards I include. I have to admit, the current version of this decklist is “tricked-out". It walks the most delicate balance between only using the most efficient cards ever printed vs. the most ubiquitous cards (for Grim Reminder) vs. cards that are fun to play.

I’ve included the current decklist for your reference so you can see it in all of its glory! So behold, First Reminder '08 (now current through 5/28/09)!

1 Academy Rector
1 Akroma, Angel or Wrath
1 Archon of Justice
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Commander Eesha
1 Exalted Angel
1 Glory
1 Karmic Guide
1 Mother of Runes
1 Reveillark
1 Stonecloaker
1 Stonehewer Giant
1 Weathered Wayfarer

1 Akroma's Vengeance
1 Austere Command
1 Balance
1 Catastrophe
1 Crib Swap
1 Exile
1 Final Judgment
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Land Tax
1 Momentary Blink
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Orim's Thunder
1 Path to Exile
1 Rout
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Tithe
1 Vengeful Dreams
1 Wrath of God

1 Body Double
1 Bonded Fetch
1 Clone
1 Coiling Oracle
1 Drift of Phantasms
1 Ethersworn Adjudicator
1 Looter il-Kor
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Mulldrifter
1 Sen Triplets
1 Wonder

1 Ancestral Recall
1 Bant Charm
1 Dromar's Charm
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Mystical Teachings
1 Perplex
1 Spitting Image
1 Supply/Demand
1 Timetwister

1 Avatar of Woe
1 Bone Shredder
1 Kokosho, the Evening Star
1 Mortivore
1 Nekrataal
1 Nezumi Graverobber
1 Shriekmaw

4 Grim Reminder
1 Beseech the Queen
1 Damnation
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Dimir Machinations
1 Liliana Vess
1 Living Death
1 Makeshift Mannequin
1 Profane Command
1 Recurring Nightmare
1 Tainted Pact
1 Terror

20 RED
1 Anger
1 Arc-Slogger
1 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Brion Stoutarm
1 Figure of Destiny
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Mogg Fanatic
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Oros the Avenger
1 Rakavolver

1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Dead/Gone
1 Fire/Ice
1 Flame Javelin
1 Jund Charm
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Molten Disaster
1 Recoup
1 Terminate

1 Avenging Druid
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Bloom Tender
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Eternal Witness
1 Gemhide Sliver
1 Genesis
1 Hermit Druid
1 OhranViper
1 Protean Hulk
1 Silklash Spider
1 Thornscape Battlemage
1 Utopia Tree
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wall of Roots

1 Berserk
1 Harmonize
1 Hibernation's End
1 Regrowth
1 Sylvan Library

1 Angel of Despair
1 Deathbringer Liege
1 Divinity of Pride
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Loxodon Heirarch
1 Mystic Enforcer
1 Oversoul of Dusk
1 Teneb the Harvester
1 Vulturous Zombie

1 Eladamri's Call
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Mirari's Wake
1 Mortify
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Privileged Position
1 Putrefy
1 Unmake
1 Vindicate

1 Duplicant
1 Etched Oracle
1 Scuttlemutt

5 Moxen
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Black Lotus
1 Chaos Orb
1 Coalition Relic
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Isochron Scepter
1 Memory Jar
1 Phrexian Totem
1 Sol Ring
1 Soul Foundry
1 Sunforger
1 Sword of Fire & Ice
1 Sword of Light & Shadow
1 Tawnos's Coffin
1 Umezama's Jitte

10 Original Dual Lands
10 Ravnica Shock Lands
10 Shadowmoor Hybrid Lands
5 Onslaught Fetch Lands
5 Shards of Alara Tri-Lands
4 Torment Tainted Lands
1 Bazaar of Baghdad
1 City of Brass
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Gemstone Mine
1 Grand Coliseum
1 Karakas
1 Keldon Megaliths
1 Kor Haven
1 Krosan Verge
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Maze of Ith
1 Mirrodin's Core
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Pendelhaven
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Riftstone Portal
1 Strip Mine
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Vesuva
1 Volrath's Stronghold
1 Wasteland

7 Forest
7 Plains
7 Swamp
2 Island
2 Mountain

For analysis sake, this particular deck is exactly 250 cards, and runs 92 lands, with 12 additional mana sources. It runs 71 creatures/equivalents. There are roughly 30 tutoring/library manipulation effects.

I play with all of my power primarily because I have nothing else to do with it… (The local players don’t care, and they think its cool to see a fully tricked out deck operate.) This incarnation is very selective on its card choices, and attempts to set the “gold standard” for inclusion. The intent is that every card will deliver some form of card advantage. It is a tool box of tutors, wraths, & CIP creatures.

Synergistic MVPs: Hermit Druid – Eternal Witness - Recurring Nightmare - Karmic Guide - Protean Hulk – Reveillark.

When I start drawing into any of these six cards, it starts what seems like a fantastic merry-go-round of CIP and advantage loops. Draw/Kill//Recur/Tutor into more CIP creatures that Draw/Kill/RFG/Tutor/Gain Life, etc etc etc. This 6-card synergy-cycle brings out a wide variety gameplays. Whatever CIP creature was pitched to the graveyard becomes the creature du-jour for that game. And the next game will still be different.

There are a few interesting choices I have in the list:
Tawnos’s Coffin – Hands down the best kept secret in 5-color. What doesn’t this card do? Remove attacking creature from the game. Save your creatures from a Wrath effect. Repeat a CIP ability. RFG troublesome creatures with tap abilities. You name it, Coffin does it all.
Spitting Image – This is one I adore. Have you tried this yet? This is a beast. Again, excellent with CIP creatures. Also see: Soul Foundry!
Archon of Justice – Just like Angel of Despair, if Archon mixes into the synergy-cycle mentioned above, you usually win.
Silklash Spider – The best defender ever printed. Not enough to cause panic at the multiplayer table, but enough to keep you alive vs. most any threat. The Hurricane ability is nice too for card advantage. See also: Commander Eesha.
Knight of the Reliquary – She is soooo good. I frequently abuse it to go get my ultra-powerful Library of Alexandria, but the Knight does so much more. Strip Mine, Maze of Ith, Dual Land, Karakas, Volrath’s Stronghold, the list goes on and on. Make sure you play enough Plains/Forests though.
Divinity of Pride/Oversoul of Dusk – These guys are actually pretty awesome finishers. They are in color for my lopsided WBG color distribution so that helps a lot. (Some may think that getting five colored mana to cast them would be impossible, but the Shadowmoor hybrid lands are pretty versatile in getting the colors out.)
Molten Disaster – I cant tell you how many times I split second Molten Disaster in a late game situation to finish people off. I used to play Earthquake for this effect, but the RRRX cost is worth the effect. Its always worth it to have at least one alternate win condition via direct damage like this. A+.
Scuttlemutt/Gemhide Sliver/Utopia Tree/Bloom Tender – This is my part of weird group of color fixing creatures. Its nice that there are so many efficient fixers for all five colors, and even better that many of them are common!

There are certainly some non-essential stuff but I keep them because they are either a.) foil or b.) a good Grim Reminder target. So now you know the secrets of my 5-Color deck. Still running strong, and eternally fun to play.


The_Magi said...

Thank you so much for contributing this well written piece on the 5color format. It's been amazing watching this format grow in our neck of the woods over the last year. U have no doubt that this piece will be a reference point for new players in the format for years to come.

GrimJack said...

Thanks! I'm considering follow up artcles on Mana-bases, board control, tutoring, and card draw.