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New Five Color Essentials


Hello everyone! I hope your Monday is awesome!

Today, I want to do something a little different that might feel like a bit of a throwback to some, and that's fine. Today I want to take about a format that is no longer the talk of the town, Five Color. Five Color is a casual format that requires at least 300 cards, and 25 cards of each color using Vintage legal sets. It has 8 banned cards and 52 restricted cards, about half of the number at its height. You can find the rules for playing it here: http://5-color.com/banned.html

Now, I have been a huge aficionado of the format for most of my adult life. There was a time it had a ruling council (which I was on) and it had grown into the default casual format of its era. Now I have always been an advocate of playing it Singleton/Highlander (whichever term you prefer). Just like Commander, everything is better Highlander.

(And we played tons of multiplayer, so we had lots of multiplayer heavy hitters in our decks too)

My play group played Five Color relentlessly, more so than any other format. And while we had some decks that still ran four-ofs (I had a madness deck with four of the key cards and Snow and Spirit decks as well with that same metric, and we had others with Enchantress or cycling decks as well.) But the vast majority of decks and time were playing with a Highlander deck. That's Abe's Deck of Happiness and Joy. And by only running one of each card, well we just have 8 banned cards and you don't have to worry about the restricted stuff.

Our playgroup had a show deck that we would use to display the best of the format using Highlander that we called The Essentials. This deck was kept by another in the group (Aaron), and it was heavily debated each time a new set was released. What is truly Essential? Pulling cards hurt. How can you pull Sword of Fire and Ice? Our playgroup broke up about five years ago, but I recently connected with one of my previous best friends who is also now in the DC/Baltimore area like myself, and was the holder of the deck. I was thinking about the playgroup, Five Color and the Essentials Deck. And despite the fact that the main Essentials deck was parsed together from the first 20 years of the game, I was thinking that the last five years of cards were so good generally, and so good to casual Magic specifically, that a New Essentials that just looks at the last five years would arguably be better than the First 20 Years Essentials.

Well, project on!

Below is my decklist for the New 5C Essentials for newly released cards from January 2013 through January 2018. Those include these sets: Ixalan Block, Amonkhet Block, Kaladesh Block, Shadows Block, Battle Block, Tarkir Block, Theros Block, Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze, Commander 2013 - 2017, Conspiracy, Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Magic 2014, Magic 2015, Magic Origins.

Now compare that to the cards from Ravnica Block, Time Spiral Block, both Mirrodin Blocks, the first (and better) Innistrad Block, the first (and better) Zendikar Block, Shards Block, Lorwyn Block, Shadowmoor Block, Ice Age Block, Rath Block, Urza's Block, Masques Block, Odyssey Block, Onslaught Block, Invasion Block, all of the Portal sets, Alpha and many other core sets, Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Antiquities, and Arabian Nights. Most of those blocks have three sets vs. the two set blocks today, so that list is a lot deeper. And we have cards here like Sol Ring, Demonic Tutor, the original dual lands, Mox Diamond, Birds of Paradise, Kodama's Reach, Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, Counterspell, and a whole lot more. How can a modern list, just looking at the last five years of sets be on par with the giants of the format?

By looking like this . . . 

Actually . . .  huh . . . 

Too many cards!

My first iteration of the deck is a little swollen with the goods. It currently clocks in around 412 cards. Whoa! I need to cut some cards, let's look at how I can pare this thing down.

Now, I normally want to have cards in my Five Color deck that do a few different things, and most cards should fit into those things to be included:

  1. Make mana or fetch lands to cast my stuff
  2. Multiple removal options for every permanent type
  3. Cards that have a huge impact on the game
  4. Cards that win the game
  5. Cards that give me card advantage
  6. Cards that keep me and my stuff alive

You'll also note that I'll run some stuff with morph or cycling in case the mana isn't there. Ideally we'll get cards in there that do a few of these 6 things. Take removal, as an example.

Need to destroy an enchantment or artifact? The old Essentials could run cards that gave you card advantage such as Orim's Thunder or Hull Breach. That's fine! I got Wear // Tear. You get the idea. In fact, you'll notice that I skipped a lot of cards that didn't do at least one of these things well, like many Planeswalkers that frump around without drawing cards, making dorks, or killing stuff.

Orim's Thunder
Hull Breach
Wear // Tear

New Essentials, ALPHA Version

46 cards.

Ugin's Insight
Typically, I use Blue in these decks for my control and card flow. You'll see countermagic to keep myself alive, mass bounce spells like Cyclonic Rift or Evacuation (the Rift is in Return to Ravnica, and unable to be used here). I'd run a ton of raw card drawing here to draw stuff and keep up my shields, but we don't have too many of those bigger options running around in the last five years. The occasional Ugin's Insight is it. I do like Pull from Tomorrow from Amonkhet here a lot as well. Historically, Blue and Green were the biggest colors in many of my 5C decks, including Abe's Deck of Happiness and Joy, so this is not a surprise.

Ideally, I want cards that give me cards. For example, you might be surprised at the lack of a bunch of planeswalkers here. But Teferi and the Unraveler version of Jace both give me cards and do important things. But compare that so, say, Jace, the Living Guildpact who doesn't draw or destroy anything. He's not doing much of anything. I don't have time for the Living Guildpact.

So, what do I have time for? Good card drawing and cards that keep things flowing.

Let's pull out a few cards right now. For example, Admiral's Order is just a Cancel. Even when it's cheaper, it's just a Cancel with nothing additional to add to the conversation. Overwhelming Denial is just a Last Word. Whir of Invention won't work in a smaller artifact deck as this one. Portal Mage is a fun trick at times, but not where I am. Grip of Phyresis is weaker compared to the other cards here. I am also pulling the weaker removal of Rapid Hybridization. I don't have a deck that abuses Deepglow Skate.

Spell Swindle is awesome, and the treasure in a five-color deck can be really valuable. But a five-mana counter with such a small additive property outside of an artifact deck that could abuse it? Nah. Similarly, not enough synergy for Thing in the Ice. Also, Embodiment of Spring takes too long if you actually need a land early in the game.

My issue with Prism Array is not the five mana to scry three, I think that's awesome. It's the removing of counters just to tap something. I can't reload the counters, and I can't draw cards. It's a little too little.

When it's set up, Domineering Will can be a powerful board-changer, but you don't always have that game-shifting momentum.

As some of my final pulls, I need to pull some cards that are working perfectly fine, but just to trim my numbers and get my deck into a more reasonable area. I am pulling the latest Dissipate, Void Shatter, and Saheeli's Artistry.

Out Admiral's Order, Whir of Invention, Portal Mage, Grip of Phyresis, Flood of Recollection, Overwhelming Denial, Rapid Hybridization, Deepglow Skate, Spell Swindle, Thing in the Ice, Prism Array, Embodiment of Spring, Domineering Will, Saheeli's Artistry, Void Shatter

That's a much stronger31 cards!

57 cards. My biggest section by far. And that's not uncommon for Green.

Uncage the Menagerie
My issue here is that most of the good Green cards in the last 5 years that searched for lands were reprints or were very expensive. I don't have a Rampant Growth or Farseek option here. For example, take Natural Connection, an instant Rampant Growth that costs three mana, not a trade I'd normally want. Thunderherd Migration? Three mana Rampant Growth. And that sucks.

Anyways, my Green is typically where I want my mana-making, beats and game-winning creatures, removal, and such, again with an eye to card value.

You can see here some strong card advantage routes like Wildest Dreams and Sage of Ancient Lore, as well as cards like Uncage the Menagerie, Collected Company, and See the Unwritten that can make a big impact on the board. Green is where it's at, and yet . . . 

I have to pull some cards here.

I don't need another Lay of the Land, out with Attune. Hunter's Prowess doesn't always do anything. Beastcaller Savant and Shaman of Forgotten Ways need more creatures to mana-ramp. Ishkanah, Grafwidow isn't giving me enough range to care. Warden of the First Tree is just a body, and not a great one. I love the long-game of Centaur Vinecrasher, but it doesn't work in this deck's shell as well as I'd want to keep it in.

Jadelight Ranger is a good card, but too uncertain. Primeval Protector is good, but not needed here. Ramunap Excavator doesn't have the synergy I need either; neither does Deathmist Raptor. Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter is a little too weak. If she didn't tap to make the Servo? Sure! Eldritch Evolution is awesome! Cut on numbers. Same with Ghalta, Primal Hunger.

Again, some of my final pulls are for cards that are, in fact, very good, but are just getting pulled for numbers. Tendershoot Dryad or Nissa, Vital Force are good examples of good pulls that work very well here. Shamanic Revelation is usually great, but not always. Same for Harvest Season, not always guaranteed, and I don't want to be sitting with a land-fetching card in my hand that I need to cast but nothing to tap so I can use it.

Out -- Attune with Aether, Hunter's Prowess, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, Beastcaller Savant, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Warden of the First Tree, Centaur Vinecrasher, Jadelight Ranger, Primeval Protector, Ramunap Excavator,Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, Eldritch Evolution, Deathmist Raptor, Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Tendershoot Dryad, Nissa, Vital Force, Shamanic Revelation, Harvest Season.

That trims my Green to 39 cards, which is a much more svelte package and retains all of the good stuff you want. What color comes next?

33 cards.

Recruiter of the Guard
White has never been my color with the most cards, but it's often the best color, marrying the board sweepers that have a huge impact of the game, the flying Angels that also have a huge impact on the game, and the best removal options you can add. The result is a powerful concoction of love for everyone. As you can see here, we only see 33 cards that are Mono-White, and many of these aren't going anywhere, like Thalia's Lancers or Recruiter of the Guard.

There are a few cards here I believe I can safely send home.

Dictate of Heliod is one of my favorite cards, but in this shell, it feels a little outclassed. It's not really in the same conversation. It's heading out. Settle the Wreckage is the sort of card I'd love to play in the old days to take care of an entire attacking team and then force people to always respect me and play cautiously, but it gives a lot and requires a lot of set-up to work. Comeuppance is out, I don't need that many protection spells. The same is true of Selfless Squire. Good card, but a little too much protection.

Linvala, the Preserver out on numbers, given her triggers aren't certain. Ditto Celestial Archon. Ditto Exquisite Archangel and Dusk // Dawn and Sunscorch Regent. Should I pull one Wrath effect for numbers? Goodbye Sublime Exhalation.

Out -- Dictate of Heliod, Settle the Wreckage, Comeuppance, Linvala, the Preserver, Celestial Archon, Selfless Squire, Exquisite Archangel, Dusk // Dawn, Sunscorch Regent, Sublime Exhalation

The 25 cards that remain are pretty tight and include some serious powerhouses!

23 cards.

Etali, Primal Storm
There may be only 23 cards here, but I can count a multicolored card as one card of that color, and I have a lot of Red cards below. We're fine.

Again, I want card advantage, and removal here. That's not something most Chandras are good at, although Flamecaller is. I also like cards here such as the Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Etali, Primal Storm and Dire Fleet Daredevil all are obviously great additions to the deck. There aren't too many options of cards to pull. But I do have a few here and there. Typically my Red has a lot of bigger Dragons, but that is down in the gold section below as most of the good ones recently printed are multicolored.

What do I pull? I love Geistblast, and I am sad to see it go, but a Shock/Fork isn't the biggest card value in the world, although it is card advantage if the Shock can kill something, but it often doesn't. Crater's Claws is just a Blaze too frequently to really stay in here long term. But that's it. Given how small this section is, I'm sure you understand that. Similarly, the Firebird and Phoenix are heading out.

Out -- Geistblast, Crater's Claws, Akoum Firebird, Rekindling Phoenix.

That's not a lot to cut, as we drop to 19 cards. That leaves us with a lot of powerhouses here, such as Subterranean Tremors, and don't sleep on Shaman of the Great Hunt. Good stuff!

36 cards.

Ob Nixilis Reignited
I look for a few things in lack. Multiplayer friendly discard is important. Tons of removal is key. Card drawing is important. Reanimation is valuable. So, I am looking for cards that keep that up. The Reignited Ob Nixilis is a perfect example of a key card here, drawing cards or Murdering stuff. You can see the value of cards that just keep my flow up like Bitter Revelation and Read the Bones while I also do some great card advantage tricks with Boneyard Parley and use some Tutors as well. See also Palace Siege or Dictate of Erebos for other options.

The result is a valuable color at controlling and pushing the board around. First you can see a ton of Nekrataal variants, from Ravenous Chupacabra to Patron of the Vein. Silumgar Assassin? Tetzimoc, Primal Death? Custodi Lich? I have a ton of options here.

But what comes out?

Frankly . . .  I don't know. I love cards in here, like Ever After, clear card advantage and reanimation. I can't pull the amazing Damnable Pact. Liliana, Death's Majesty is a great card here. The Never part of the Never // Return is good but I doubt I'll use Return that often unless I have nothing else to do. I doubt I'm using the awaken part of Ruinous Path that often, but the card is good kill, with that as an option later.

This is my tightest color, I want to stick to these 36. But I can't.

Brutal Hordechief is just a dork that can't always force blocking and this is a trick only in theory. Custodi Lich can replace itself and is an Edict on a dork, but doesn't work with blinking or other things if I'm already the Monarch, so I'm sending it away. The Regent is a little too pricey to work so it's out. Ditto the cost of In Garruk's Wake. Nighthowler is not always amazing.

Some great cards I'll miss include Never // Return, and Ruinous Path. Both are great, but I don't need that many targeted removal spells in cutting my deck down.

Out -Brutal Hordechief, Custodi Lich, Deathbringer Regent, In Garruk's Wake, Nighthowler, Never // Return, Ruinous Path

Again, because of how good these cards are, I only dropped a few cards and that leaves me with 29 cards for Black.

That concludes our single-color options, but what's next?

New Essentials: Gold -- Five Color | Abe Sargent

82 cards

Sorin, Grim Nemesis
That's right! Eighty-two cards! This is where I can probably cut some cards and pare down my deck.

Gold tends to be the place where all of the best cards in the deck go to hide out. Over the years, multicolored is a weakness added to a card to strengthen it. In a Five Color deck, that weakness is a strength, as you can see above.

This is the color of powerful spells and abilities. Powerful planeswalkers. Strong effects.

As a quick example, take my various 'walkers. Each planeswalker here is chosen because of the powerful options it unlocks. Take Nahiri, the Harbinger as a good example. She will loot for you, give you card quality, and exile an enchantment or a tapped artifact or creature. That's removal and card flow. She has a lot of quality. I can't pull her. Similarly take Sorin, Grim Nemesis or Dack Fayden stealing artifacts. Even something like Dovin Baan is good on the -1, and I'm fine spending four mana and then getting six life and three cards over three turns and then losing Dovin.

But there are a few cards I can pull:

I don't have enough equipment for Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, who is really like a modern Godo, Bandit Warlord. Bounty of the Luxa is pretty slow, so it's out as well. Notion Thief requires too much to set up. Tezzeret the Schemer really needs a denser artifact selection to work.

In other news, I have other Clone effects, and Altered Ego is just an uncounterable Clone that can make something a little bigger. It's out on numbers. Similarly, Pristine Skywise is awesome, but out on numbers. I have other flying game-enders. Ankle Shanker is fun, but cut on numbers. Beck // Call is great, but again, cut on numbers. Boros Charm is out on numbers, I have other Indestructible and defensive options elsewhere.

Turn // Burn isn't strong enough, and neither is Driven // Despair. Render Silent is an awkward counter. I don't know why I'm running Plasm Capture and not Mystic Genesis, so I actually will switch that over.

Like Centaur Vinecrasher, Jungle Creeper has a great long game by coming back. But it's just a little too little here. Playing more lands is awesome! Mina and Denn, Wildborn are just a little on the outside looking in. Treasury Thrull is too little and just squeezed out. Also, out is Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge. She's just too uncertain at times.

Arlinn Kord is great! Out in numbers. See also Sagu Mauler which is awesome as a game-winning beater, but I have lots of game winning beaters. See also Marchesa, the Black Rose and her dethroning fun times.

I hate to pull it, but with very few creatures to reanimate, the vast majority of the time, Ojutai's Command is going to be a four-mana Exclude. And I don't need a four mana Exclude in this shell. If I had some more smaller bodies, then I would toss it in all day long because it's amazing when you have the reanimation setting on.

At first I was looking to pull Ravos, Soultender, but that free Raise Dead each of your upkeeps has a lot of value to me long term, in addition to being an Anthem on a stick.

Other of my final cuts for cards that are really, really good include Progenitor Mimic andDovin Baan and Queen Marchesa. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami is heading home. I really wanted Roon of the Hidden Realm's subtle blinking to matter more here, but I just don't have enough cards here to work with it. Out.

Out - Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Bounty of the Luxa, Notion Thief, Tezzeret the Schemer, Altered Ego, Pristine Skywise, Turn // Burn, Driven // Despair, Ankle Shanker, Beck // Call, Boros Charm, Jungle Creeper, Mina and Denn, Wildborn, Treasury Thrull, Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge, Arlinn Kord, Sagu Mauler,Marchesa, the Black Rose, Ojutai's Command, Progenitor Mimic, Dovin Baan, Queen Marchesa, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Roon of the Hidden Realm

From 82 cards to 61cards. I still have a massive amount of quality. This leaves me all of the best 'walkers gold has to offer, card drawing Urban Evolution, the four basic land-cyclers like Sylvan Reclamation, and more like the good Dragonlords!

Next, how about those without color?

42 cards.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
I typically run a lot more artifacts and colorless cards than this in my decks. But this has not been the era of great colorless options in five color builds. Equipment has been mostly neutered, and we only have a few options from the Commander sets to make some noise. I used to have a ton of artifact creatures with big fat presences, but we don't have a lot of Darksteel Colossus or Duplicant anymore. Shoot, event Solemn Simulacrum and Pilgrim's Eye are reprinted, keeping the number of land-grabbing options to just Burnished Hart and Wild-Field Scarecrow. I did add in Emrakul and Ulamog, as well as Metalwork Colossus, but that's it.

This section feels smaller than I was expecting.

The mana rocks aren't as good, the equipment not as studly, and the creatures not as sturdy. This is the modern era of Magic. There are no more Mox Diamonds to be found. No more cheap mana rocks that make multiple mana.

Given that, I do think we have a few cards we can pull here:

I love giving haste to things for a simple mana after they arrive, and cards like Swiftfoot Boots or Strider Harness are definitely in my limelight. Haunted Cloak is fine in that genre, but it's getting cut in numbers.

Are Astral Cornucopia, Hedron Archive, Cultivator's Caravan, Prismatic Geoscope, Magnifying Glass, Seer's Lantern, Thought Vessel, and Unstable Obelisk really doing what I want? It feels like a bad move matinee of B movies that are just playing poorly in the nostalgia-laced feel with nothing new happening. They all have additional abilities that I like, but I feel like at least two or three should head home for numbers. Thought Vessel is the first. It's rare that I need to keep more than seven in my hand at the same time as I'll have it out. Also, Seer's Lantern. I doubt I want to have scry for just one that often. And the Glass is too slow for investigating, I'm sending it out as well.

Meanwhile, I love Fathom Feeder, but it's just a little slow. The combo of deathtouch and card drawing is real. But it's just a little much here in a tight build. This is also not the right build for Conqueror's Flail. Ditto Scytheclaw.

There are some solid card drawing options here like Coercive Portal and Oracle's Vault.

I love Bloodforged Battle-Axe in a lot of places. But the space here is tight. If Filigree Familiar gave you the card on arrival, and then the life on death, I wouldn't pull it. But here I do. It's a little less synergetic than the rest of the deck. Out goes the Smuggler's Copter and Heart of Kiran. Should I head back to Blue and pull Deadeye Navigator? I only have two Vees left, and just a handful of equipment made it. I do so. It's a perfect card, and if I add another few Vees/Equipment to the deck, then it heads right back in again.

I pull Planar Bridge -- it's just too good but expensive.

Out -- Haunted Cloak, Thought Vessel, Fathom Feeder, Conqueror's Flail, Seer's Lantern, Scytheclaw, Magnifying Glass, Bloodforged Battle-Axe, Filigree Familiar, Smuggler's Copter, Planar Bridge, Heart of Kiran,

30 cards remain. This leaves amazing cards like Sire of Stagnation, Prismatic Geoscope, Walking Ballista, The Immortal Sun, card drawing craziness of Lifecrafter's Bestiary, Sword of the Animist, and lots more goods!

95 cards.

Arcane Lighthouse
I don't need 95 lands. That's way too many. The Wastes is here for one card -- Eldrazi Displacer's activated ability, and I do want to retain that if I pull some lands that tap for colorless. If I had 85 lands out of 300 cards, then I would have around 30% of my cards are lands. Considering my man-fetching and rocks, that should be fine with the modern options.

One thing to note. I am missing five Guildgates. It clearly doesn't matter. You can see just how many lands we have that tap for two or more colors of mana in the last five years. It seems like just about every other set had a good cycle of lands! My mana will be smooth as butter off a bald monkey. With that understood, where I am cutting lands?

Throne of the High City can draw you a card after you are crowned the Monarch. But it sacrifices itself to do so and requires a heavy investment of mana that just isn't where I want to be. Out! What else? Cascading Cataracts isn't necessary. Drownyard Temple is amazing in the right shell, but this is not that shell. I pull the Guildgate cycle for numbers.

Out - Throne of the High City, Cascading Cataracts, Drownyard Temple, the Guildgates.

That leaves me with 86 lands!

Now how did we do?

All right, I am at 320 cards, but I am cutting extremely good, high-quality cards that I thought should make it. So, I am calling this project tentatively finished, adding to the deck the five Guildgates I pulled and another of each non-Wastes land and then calling this a Beta Build. I need to get some games with the deck to see what works, and see what it wants. And 330 isn't a bad place to be. This way I can play and see what is under-performing. For example, I've always gotten a good result from Baloth Null because of its double-Gravedigger trigger. Will that still be the case here? I love Warden of the Eye in theory. Is that theory holding here? So, I want to give it a spin. You some bodies may prove unneeded.

Ready for the full-on finale?

Here we go!

Check out the decklist below. I hope you enjoyed this walk through Modern options for Five Color! If there is anything else you have to proffer or recommend, just let me know! Did I miss a card? Thanks for reading!

New Essentials, BETA Version -- Five Color | Abe Sargent

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