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Breaking Through – Life in Five Colors

You ever get the brew bug?

You know, that flurry of seven deck lists in a row, none of them finished before the next one starts. That constant scribbling and jotting down from the middle seat of row J on your flight to a Grand Prix. Or that half-panicked burst out of bed at 3 a.m. as you figured out just what to do with Scrambleverse. The brew bug is real, and it hits every deckbuilder at some point.

Some of us, ahem ahem, are maybe more prone to getting the bug than others, but it’ll happen, eventually.

Anyway, as I have gotten back into a better schedule with Magic, I have found it hard to stop brewing. Bad decks, awkward decks, more bad decks, they just keep coming! Ok, maybe there is an occasional good idea thrown in there, but even if there were not, I would still be trying everything out. The temptation to go spend a hundred bucks on whatever you are missing on Magic Online is too strong. Even in the back of my head, when I know that buying 4 copies of Gild is wrong, a brewer’s gotta brew!

A few weeks ago I began working on a five-color control list that was really exciting to me. While I really liked the Esper lists, the Bant lists also had quite a big advantage going in that they were able to play Courser of Kruphix. Bant has a pretty miserable time in any type of control mirror though, so how might you improve that? Well, he B/r decks have a solution: Rakdos’s Return. Rakdos’s Return means red. Red means a 5th color. And so, this is where we are.

At first, I expected the deck to be very fringe competitive, but it looked like a ton of fun nonetheless. I posted a screenshot of where I began this foolish journey:

brewbug1

Originally, I expected to do a little battling with this on stream and then tuck it away, only to pick up G/B Dredge or Mono-Black Aggro for Grand Prix Phoenix, but then I played with the deck. The list from the picture above has some obvious flaws, but I began to pick up on those quickly.

First of all, look at that mana base. Do you think we have enough sources of red mana? What about if we are casting Dreadbore at any reasonable time? An easy oversight to make when drawing up a rough draft, but also an easy thing to fix if I was willing to devote even a little time to the list. This also came with the knowledge that 24 lands is too few and that nine Temples in a deck that could get away with way more was almost criminal.

Or how about my Mutavault interaction? Mutavault is probably the most played card in Standard and tends to present traditional control decks a lot of problems. While I had 3 “reliable” ways to deal with it in this list, two of those cost four mana and would be difficult to cast when the opportunity presents itself. Occasionally Far // Away did something, but the Changeling was certainly a problem.

Or even worse, what would happen if our opponent were to cast an Obzedat? Don’t worry, if you can’t figure it out, I experienced this firsthand in some Rogue’s Gallery entries that will be going up soon. Essentially, Far into Rakdos’s Return was my best answer and those are both two-ofs that are difficult to keep around through opposing hand disruption.

My sideboard was also a bit of a mess. It wasn’t until I was holding 2 Negates as my opponent resolved Ephara, God of the Polis into Thassa where I realized I should not be running a card like Negate when I had access to so much better. Blue was a core color of the deck, so even reaching into double-blue territory was reasonable.

In general, the biggest thing I needed to improve was to capitalize on the core 3 colors of the deck by working any essential cards into those colors if at all possible, and then branching into other colors for specific answers or very powerful effects. A card like Rakdos’s Return is huge value in control matchups where they don’t have anything to disrupt you on that level. But Rakdos’s Return is a very expensive spell that you usually have time to set up with the proper colors. How can this Bant deck reliably cast Dreadbore before turn 4 or 5? What if those Dreadbores were Azorius Charms instead?

While Charm is not the type of hard answer I was looking for, look at how much better the mana gets once we rein in our splash colors. As I digged further into this issue, I realized that Dreadbore was the worst type of offender. It contained both splash colors, making it near impossible to cast, but the cards with only a single splash color were still very reasonable.

This realization came after I moved to two copies of Turn // Burn main deck as a means to fight both Mutavault and Obzedat. While I would say the card underperformed slightly due to not really being as effective in the early game as I would have liked, it did show that having access to a single red mana by turn 3 was not that difficult. I found myself always holding on to Turn // Burn to get value later on though, which meant I could look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, some cards were just too cute. Gild came with big dreams attached to it. Ramping into turn 4 Elspeth or taking out an active God were both really cool to think about, but as I played with the deck more and more, those situations basically never came up. And they certainly did not come up enough to warrant a four-mana sorcery spot removal spell in the deck. The mana fixing was nice early on, but as I improved my mana base and color distribution, the need for a crutch that a Gold token provides began to go down.

Chromanticore is a card I am still unsure of. On the surface, you might look at the card as a bit of a troll inclusion just because this deck can cast it. However, it actually does bring a lot of utility to the deck both as a Baneslayer Angel and as an aura. Much of the time you end up bestowing this on your Courser to sneak in 6 damage with lifelink, which can just end the game. That said, at the end of the day this is a 4/4 that dies to all of the Mizzium Mortars and Warleader’s Helices running around. Detention Sphere was another problem.

I want to continue exploring the Chromanticore, but with more and more red decks popping up, I am not so sold on him at the moment. It might be correct to just play an Aetherling or Blood Baron in the main deck. For now, I am sticking with the five-color enchantment because he is an unknown. If I add Aetherling or Blood Baron to the deck, I know exactly what I am getting out of my mana. Chromaticore is not exactly seeing a bunch of play elsewhere, so if I want to wrap my head around just what the card is capable of, I need to find out on my own. Even if Chromanticore does not make the final list, it will be in the majority of my test decks until I can determine that for sure.

With the weaknesses of the deck more clear to me, I took a stab at reworking the deck. The mana base and early game changed quite a bit, while the big marquee spells remain:

brewbug2

This deck plays out similarly to Bant control in the early game with a few notable exceptions. Your opening hand needs to stabilize your mana, which means green mana and Sylvan Caryatid are both at a premium. Yes you will Supreme Verdict them away sometimes, but it is more than worth it. As long as you have a single Caryatid in play and aren’t completely mana screwed, your color issues should be nonexistent.

Your follow-up play is to try to get Courser of Kruphix into play before playing your 3rd land. Courser is very important to this deck as a mana smoother but also as a defensive creature. Again, you will Verdict him away, but he often demands overcommittment to the board from your opponent and gains you some life and card advantage while he’s at it. The life gain is very nice at offsetting the painful shocklands as well. And it should not be understated just how good this guy is in any type of control mirror. His presence almost demands the opponent leave some otherwise bad removal in their deck.

From there, you generally move to the planeswalker phase of the game. Jace and Kiora both do a reasonable job at protecting themselves and providing you card advantage while the opponent has no pressure going. These two ‘walkers are obviously strong in the late game as well, but midgame ‘walkers will be very common along with Supreme Verdict to get you moving toward that late game.

Once you get to the late game, you are very similar to Esper control, only with more tools at your disposal. You will often close out games by just casting Sphinx’s Revelation for a million, but sometimes that will also come in the form of Rakdos’s Return as the effect can be equally game-ending, especially when an opponent is not expecting it.

Cards like Izzet Charm are actually quite useful at this point in the game as well. Early on they took out an opposing 2-drop of some sort, but now they get to tackle Mutavaults or counter big x-spells or the occasional walker which is really nice. Obviously when you are in a pickle, you can also go looting too, but that mode is used only 10% of the time at most.

Far // Away and Turn // Burn both go from being kind of situational, awkward cards early on to being very useful at this point in the game. Much of the time you are too far ahead to appreciate the value that holding one of these in your hand provides, but they do fine work. Courser even allows for Turn // Burn to get you a two-for-one every once in awhile.

Wrap Up

Obviously playing a deck like this is different. You often play a turn behind or take a little damage from your mana base in order to squeeze everything into the list that you want. The trade-off, of course, is that you get extremely powerful spells in every single matchup.

If there is a reason to avoid playing this list, I think that reason is Mutavault and not because we have issues with it. These days, those issues are mostly patched up, but what we cannot do is play the card ourselves. That is the big advantage for Esper or Bant that we miss out on and is a reasonable concern. I think the sideboard is enough to push the stretched mana toward being worth it, but I am sure many others will disagree.

This deck is on my very short list of options for Grand Prix Phoenix, so I will have to see over the next day or two how I feel. Hundreds of games on Magic Online do have my confidence with the deck relatively high, which is always a plus. The desert of Arizona will be my guide! Thanks for reading! #Chromantitron

Conley Woods

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