5-Color Control in Standard

Standard is rotating, and along with the loss of Titans, Swords, and Phyrexian mana spells, one of the biggest changes to the format is the addition of five Ravnica shocklands. It may seem like a minor upgrade from the Scars dual lands (and a loss for some color pairs), but this gives us deckbuilders access to much more powerful manabases to build around.

The M10/Innistrad dual lands might have gained the most from the shocklands being in Standard. A single [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] activates untapped [card]Glacial Fortress[/card], [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card], [card]Drowned Catacomb[/card], [card]Isolated Chapel[/card], [card]Clifftop Retreat[/card], [card]Sulfur Falls[/card], and [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]. That’s a whopping seven out of ten of them!

Constructing manabases is going to be an art and a skill in the new Standard. We don’t want to go overboard with shocklands, or our manabase will be too painful. We want a good ratio of M10/Innistrad duals and lands that turn on those duals. We have to consider which spells we need to be able to cast early. But, with careful planning, we can ignore the rudimentary notion of, “What color is your deck?” and reply with, “ALL of them.”

Control decks thrive when the mana in the format is flexible. Think of the Vivid lands and 5CC – we don’t have quite as much freedom with our mana to cast things like [card]Cloudthresher[/card] and [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] in the same deck, but we can still attempt to house all of the format’s best cards under one roof. Perhaps, we’ll discover that being five colors isn’t going to work and we need to dial it down to three or four. It’s something to figure out – so why not start at the extreme end of the spectrum?

Before we start with actual decklists, let’s take a look at what exactly are the most powerful things we can be doing, with no color restrictions.

[card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
[card]Abrupt Decay[/card]
[card]Detention Sphere[/card]
[card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
[card]Tragic Slip[/card]
[card]Ultimate Price[/card]
[card]Victim of Night[/card]
[card]Sever the Bloodline[/card]

[card]Supreme Verdict[/card]
[card]Mizzium Mortars[/card]
[card]Blasphemous Act[/card]
[card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]

[card]Angel of Serenity[/card]
[card]Armada Wurm[/card]
[card]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/card]
[card]Olivia Voldaren[/card]
[card]Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker[/card]
[card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card]
[card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]
[card]Lingering Souls[/card]
[card]Entreat the Angels[/card]

Not every card here can be reasonably considered for 5-Color Control. Any cards with double or triple colored mana symbols are going to be much harder to cast without access to something like [card]Reflecting Pool[/card] or filter lands. Mutilate would require us to play a certain number of Swamps – whatever that number is, it’s too high for our purposes. Our choice of removal will always be changing as we adjust to the meta-game, but for Week 1, [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], [card]Dreadbore[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], and Terminus are the prime answers to the format’s threats.

The first method I want to take in building a 5-Color Control deck is choosing a base color. Green is an easy choice, being the color of mana-fixing. Farseek can grab any of the five shocklands and accelerates our mana. [card]Abundant Growth[/card] was used as a solution in AVR Block Constructed, providing unlimited mana-fixing for only a one-mana investment, without even wasting a card. The low chance of land or enchantment destruction disrupting us early on isn’t a huge concern in this format.

5-Color Ramp

4 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]
4 [card]Thragtusk[/card]
2 [card]Armada Wurm[/card]

1 [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]
1 [card]Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker[/card]

4 [card]Abundant Growth[/card]
4 [card]Farseek[/card]
3 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
2 [card]Dreadbore[/card]
1 [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card]
1 [card]Detention Sphere[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
1 [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]
2 [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]
3 [card]Terminus[/card]
1 [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]

4 [card]Temple Garden[/card]
2 [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]
1 [card]Steam Vents[/card]
1 [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]
1 [card]Blood Crypt[/card]
4 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card]
3 [card]Rootbound Crag[/card]
2 [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]
1 [card]Woodland Cemetery[/card]
4 [card]Forest[/card]
2 [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card]

This is a tap-out ramp deck that takes advantage of being Green by splashing the most powerful cards it can. Huntmaster and [card]Thragtusk[/card] help to recover from any early beatdowns you might receive, and leave behind extra bodies. The deck can prolong the game until it reaches a grindy state, and an end-game of [card]Nicol Bolas[/card] or [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] trumps just about anything else your opponent could be doing. Against any mid-range creature deck, [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] and Bonfire can break a board stall.

We have a decent proactive strategy here, but it’s also important for a control deck to have good answers. [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and Terminus are the #1 spells to have against the [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s and [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card]s that Zombies will throw at us. [card]Dreadbore[/card] is probably the best unconditional removal spell in the format, and being able to hit opposing Planeswalkers is a huge bonus. [card]Detention Sphere[/card] is a catch-all answer that also happens to be great against Zombies, and can deal with an army of tokens from [card]Entreat the Angels[/card]. I expect the new “[card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] Ring” to be a popular card, so [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] hedges against opposing [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s.

The mana-base is skewed to be Green-heavy, since our Green spells enable our other colors. Because we ideally would like to curve out 2-4-5, I’d like to avoid come-into-play-tapped lands as much as possible. The Ravnica shocklands really showcase the true power of Farseek in this deck, setting us up to cast a Huntmaster or [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], or some really off-color spell like [card]Dreadbore[/card]. [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] isn’t great, but can save us if we need to cast a [card]Dreadbore[/card] or [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] in a pinch and don’t have enough time to set up our mana.

Instead of Green as our base color, what if we looked at Red and Black?

5-Color Solar Flare

3 [card]Thragtusk[/card]
3 [card]Angel of Serenity[/card]
1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]

2 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]

4 [card]Faithless Looting[/card]
4 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
3 [card]Desperate Ravings[/card]
2 [card]Dreadbore[/card]
1 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card]
4 [card]Lingering Souls[/card]
2 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]
2 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
3 [card]Terminus[/card]

4 [card]Blood Crypt[/card]
4 [card]Isolated Chapel[/card]
4 [card]Clifftop Retreat[/card]
2 [card]Mountain[/card]
2 [card]Plains[/card]
2 [card]Swamp[/card]
1 [card]Island[/card]
1 [card]Forest[/card]
4 [card]Evolving Wilds[/card]
2 [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card]

This list is lighter on the splashing, but needs to be. Without [card]Abundant Growth[/card] and Farseek, we’re relying on filtering through our deck and discarding things that we don’t need or can’t currently use. This is a much slower strategy without a defined mana curve, but, unlike the Green-based deck, uses the graveyard as a resource and can randomly put an Angel or [card]Griselbrand[/card] into play on Turn 4.

Again, Terminus and [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] are our best tools to fight Zombies. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] provides us with early blockers and is one of the best cards to pitch to Liliana or [card]Faithless Looting[/card]. With the heavier Red commitment, I like [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] as kind of a Flame Slash/[card]Flame Wave[/card] split card. We probably want more copies in the sideboard. Without [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Dreadbore[/card] gives us answers to larger threats like [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card], and Liliana and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] mean that we’re not completely dead to a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

This deck might make the best use of a [card]Gilded Lotus[/card], supporting casting costs that include RRR, WWW, and BBBB. We can play a Lotus and a [card]Lingering Souls[/card] on the same turn (or flashback a Ravings, [card]Faithless Looting[/card], play a Liliana, etc.) to use our mana efficiently.

The manabase here hinges on [card]Blood Crypt[/card] allowing us to put the 8 Innistrad dual lands into play untapped. We should be able to have our primary colors of mana by Turn 2 or 3, and, if needed, we can play a [card]Blood Crypt[/card] untapped on Turn 8 to cast a [card]Griselbrand[/card]. Sure makes [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card] look bad.

Another advantage of this deck (and any 5-Color Control deck) is having the strongest sideboard cards at our disposal. Cards like [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] and [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] are amazing options, and could even make the maindeck of the list above, if the format called for it.

Yet another idea is 5-Color “Superfriends.” This isn’t just a gimmick to try and get all of the Planeswalkers holding hands together on your side of the board; Planeswalkers demand a high level of skill from both the person playing with them and the person playing against them. Every turn, they present your opponent with opportunities to make mistakes, while gaining incremental advantage. This gets increasingly difficult for an attacker when they are facing down two or three Planeswalkers.

5-Color Superfriends

3 [card]Thragtusk[/card]

2 [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card]
2 [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]
2 [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card]
1 [card]Vraska the Unseen[/card]
1 [card]Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker[/card]

3 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
2 [card]Azorius Charm[/card]
4 [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card]
4 [card]Lingering Souls[/card]
1 [card]Detention Sphere[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
3 [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]
1 [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card]
4 [card]Terminus[/card]

4 [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]
2 [card]Steam Vents[/card]
4 [card]Isolated Chapel[/card]
2 [card]Drowned Catacomb[/card]
1 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card]
1 [card]Clifftop Retreat[/card]
1 [card]Sulfur Falls[/card]
1 [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]
1 [card]Plains[/card]
1 [card]Island[/card]
1 [card]Swamp[/card]
1 [card]Mountain[/card]
1 [card]Forest[/card]
3 [card]Evolving Wilds[/card]
2 [card]Transguild Promenade[/card]

Now, this is a pretty ambitious list. While [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card] does wonders in this deck by completely fixing our mana and accelerating us into the 5-drops, we can’t completely rely on having it every game or not getting Abrupt Decayed. Because of this, we are primarily U/W, with [card]Azorius Charm[/card], Detention Sphere/Oblivion Ring, and Wraths to buy us time to find our other colors of mana.

Pillar of Flame, [card]Lingering Souls[/card], and the full number of Terminus give us plenty of early solutions to Zombies and any other creatures that are going to threaten our Planeswalkers. [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] prevents any future [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, [card]Lotleth Troll[/card]s, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s, or [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] from hitting play, as well as stacking with Jace’s +1 ability to reduce the power of swarms of smaller creatures.

Jace and Tamiyo seem like the best Planeswalkers. I considered [card]Garruk Relentless[/card], but we won’t always have Green mana by Turn 4. Plus, [card]Thragtusk[/card] is just a better Green spell to have. We could find room for a couple [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]s, but we would have to add more Black mana sources.

[card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] and [card]Steam Vents[/card] are our shocklands of choice here, and our ten other dual lands are chosen carefully around this. Blue and White are the main colors that we want multiples of, and all of the M10/Innistrad duals can come into play untapped off of a [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]. This is the best way to try and support our demanding casting costs, without the help of [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card].

This list will probably need to sideboard in some help against aggressive decks. We’re slow to get off the ground, but Sorin and [card]Thragtusk[/card] can at least help negate some of the early damage we’ll have taken.

If I were to play in a Standard tournament tomorrow, I would bring the first list that I proposed. It has the most proactive game-plan, and more consistent mana with Farseek and [card]Abundant Growth[/card]. We have a fairly good picture of Standard right now, but as the format becomes more uniform and defined, we’ll know exactly what we’re up against and can adjust accordingly. Having access to all five colors means that we have the broadest number of options at our disposal – and raw power is a great way to beat other players’ new, unrefined decks in a largely unknown meta-game.

Alex Bianchi
Gemmanite on Twitter and MTGO