With Grand Prix Chicago rapidly approaching, the first question any Magic friend is going to ask these days is what I am playing there. This is usually followed up by questions about Modern, as it is the format du jour for PTQs these days. But Standard is still on everyone's mind and I love that as the format seems very deep and rich right now, even if some of the same characters seem to be hogging most of the lines.
Five Color Control!
And my answer is never good enough at face value.
Some of that is on me, as I am not 100% to play the deck as of yet, but it is my front runner as of right now and is the deck I have been testing the most online. But most of that is on the curious individual, as they seem to think my answer is some kind of joke. The deck is a bit out there, I suppose, but five colors in a control deck has been good before and will be good again, so what is stopping right now from being one of those times?
The reason exploring the strategy is even worthwhile is that the mana in Standard is very strong right now. Usually we have one solid set of dual lands in the format and maybe a playable one-of like Evolving Wilds, but right now there are two complete 10 land cycles that are extremely playable and quite good. Add to this supplemental help from Mana Confluence and some bonus fixing out of green and getting to a place where you have consistent mana is certainly within reach.
In order to have good mana, you will need to construct your deck properly to work around the disadvantages you may encounter, such as a mana base that enters the battlefield tapped much of the time. With a little finesse though, I find that the tools available are plenty. But with five colors at your disposal, where do you begin?Building a Pyramid
I wrote about a five color control deck a few months ago. In that article, I described the process of choosing a base. For that deck in particular, I was focusing on a Bant base which was obvious due to the heavy saturation of spells across blue, white, and green, but I never really described just how I got to that point.
One way to look at a five color deck is to think of it like a pyramid. Remember those terrible and often inaccurate food Pyramids you were taught back in grade school? Think of that but change the foods into colors and you can arrive at a sound strategy for constructing your deck.
At the bottom of the pyramid should be a large and stable color that fuels the rest of the deck. Sometimes, such as back during Shards of Alara, that base can be blue due to a heavy amount of card draw, early plays like Jace or Plumeveil, and powerful heavy color commitment cards like Cryptic Command. Shards had incredible mana without any nonland help though. These days, we are a little shy of that fixing, so I feel like green is an essential base level color.
In my opinion, every successful five color control deck is going to start out with the following eight card base.
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
This does imply some big things of course. It means that five color control without green as its base is not going to be good enough. It also means that you need lands in your deck that can cast these cards in a timely manner.
You see, these cards not only come with a certain mana requirement to them that would push green, but they also come with an optimal time window attached. The white mana in a card like Sphinx's Revelation is so much less stressful on a mana base than the green in a Sylvan Caryatid is because Revelation is a late game card that you generally do not want to even look at until turn five or six. Caryatid is amazing on turn two but has a steep fall off as the game goes longer and its utility is not as useful.
Having green stand out does give us some good direction though. It not only influences the number of green sources in our list and makes other green cards more acceptable, such as Abrupt Decay, but it also then fixes mana for future plays, allowing things like Sphinx's Revelation to coexist with Rakdos's Return and Courser of Kruphix.The Next Level
After we establish a green base for our five color deck, there are a lot of options to use as the next level. A solid base generally consists of one big base color and two supplemental support colors that are a large part of the deck's identity. This may change in other formats, but in Standard, basically look at what other decks are capable of doing comfortably and that is your base. If two color decks are all the format's mana can support, your base is likely to be two colors with light touches into the other three. In current Standard though, three color decks are relatively easy to pull off, so we get to expand our base to three total colors.
With green occupying the bottom tier, this gives us the following options to look into:
Now, some of the more powerful control cards are going to steer your decision. Sphinx's Revelation is sort of the card that control decks look toward to establish the late game in their favor. Because it has double blue in its cost and you so deeply want to run it, you often see green being paired with blue as a primary second color. However, this does not have to be the case as you could construct a non-base-blue deck to still cast Revelation in the late game just fine, but it does take some extra work.
Ideally, at this stage, you want to be focusing on heavy color commitments in the early game and/or stabilizing cards, such as removal. If you cannot cast your two-drop or three-drop removal on turn two or three, then those cards are not getting the value that they could be. Cards like Supreme Verdict ask for a heavier color commitment than the likes of Ultimate Price or Abrupt Decay. If you want to run a card like Verdict, white has to be one of your tier 2 colors, limiting you to Bant, Naya, or Junk, but you still have options.
I would argue that sweepers are going to be the most enticing thing in terms of a stablizer. Supreme Verdict is the most obvious card in that category here, but if you wanted to swap our white for red, you could probably get away with Anger of the Gods as your sweeper of choice, although you need to have outs to more expensive and bigger threats as well.
Cards like Drown in Sorrow are not quite high impact enough to be a consideration for this same slot though. Recently, I have been working on a BUG version of 5cc and Drown makes the sideboard for specific match ups, but the deck has eschewed any type of sweeper in favor of more spot removal and main deck Thoughtseize. Here is that list:
This list has blue as one of its bases, so it makes sense that it would be topped off by Sphinx's Revelation, which is going to be a card that appears in most lists. Some astute readers may note that there are no red cards in this list and they would be correct unless they were also given access to the sideboard!
2 Rakdos's Return
2 Dark Betrayal
2 Drown in Sorrow
1 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Golgari Charm
1 Ultimate Price
1 Far // Away
1 Pithing Needle
If you do a rough breakdown by color, you will see this deck forms a pretty solid pyramid. Check this out
Red - 3
White - 9
Blue - 20
Black - 30
Green - 21
Black has a higher density of mana symbols in the deck due to things like Silence the Believers and Hero's Downfall having heavy commitments but this makes some sense. When we include four copies of Thoughtseize in our deck, we want early access to black mana. In other words, we want more sources of black mana which means we have the infrastructure set up to support more black cards, so we should take advantage.
Green has less symbols than black, but again, its cards need to come down early. If you do not hit your second black mana until turn five, that Hero's Downfall is still going to be pretty dang good. Courser might be acceptable, but it will have missed two turns of opportunity. Sylvan Caryatid, on the other hand, is not very exciting at that point in time.
I think that if you are going to have a list lacking Supreme Verdict, BUG is probably the safest route you can go as it has access to Thoughtseize, which is just so powerful. If you wanted to try to fuse together a list that had both however, that might be pretty exciting. Because we are sticking with a green base, we do not want to try to be Esper. If that is your thing, playing Esper is not the worst idea in the world. Instead, I want to quickly look at what Junk may present itself as.
In a Junk shell, these are the cards that I really want access to:
Courser of Kruphix
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Ignoring the lands for now (as that is more of something arrived at through iteration than from a correct guess in the beginning), all of that would want me to build a deck that looked something like the following:
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Ultimate Price
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Hero's Downfall
2 Underworld Connections
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Silence the Believers
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
1 Rakdos's Return
3 Sphinx's Revelation
There are plenty of experimental cards in this list, such as Underworld Connections, but it seems reasonable to not rely quite as heavily on Sphinx's Revelation. Also, that gives our Mana Confluence a solid use once all of our mana has been ironed out as Connections will not trigger the life loss on the card.
We could potentially even push the blue a little further and figure out a way to get Kiora back into the list, as she has been a very solid card across other versions. One could argue that the double blue requirement for Revelation justifies enough mana that Kiora would be no issue and that makes sense, but I would want to test it to verify that theory first.Wrap Up
Five Color Control is a very malleable list that really needs its pilot to be on top of the game plan going on. You need to know the speed of your deck and the times you can afford a certain land over another. You need to know your outs after a Revelation for six and you need to know your match ups as the whole world is at your fingertips when it comes to sideboarding.
With enough practice though, you will feel control over your list and capable of making important alterations as the metagame shifts. It could be correct to entirely switch out your base trio if the right match ups rise up and all of a sudden Supreme Verdict isn't great or maybe Blood Baron of Vizkopa is not cutting it anymore. Pay attention and five color control is a deck that will reward you in turn. Thanks for reading!