So I had a dream about Cromat one night. Its awkward, bulbous head peered out of its card’s gold frame and, with its mournful eyes and undersized fairy wings, wailed, “Why does no one play me in EDH? I’d be a great general!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell Cromat that Progenitus could knock the snot out of him any day of the week. But I like a good underdog story, so I decided to join his corner. “You’re gonna be a contender, Crome-Dome,” I assured the giant, bulb-headed, wussy-winged wurm-thing. “I’ll turn you into a champ!”
(Normally I dream about being Batman, so I consider this experience entirely grounded and ordinary.)
This ephemeral journey into the depths of my unconscious produced a spark of inspiration to create my first 5-color EDH deck. I found two main challenges in building a successful rainbow deck: forming a cohesive strategy, and building a proper, consistent mana base. This article was originally going to talk about my strategy for Cromat, but I didn’t think it would be as original or insightful as talking about building a mana base for a 5-color deck.
Well…yes and no. My first point of contention is that not everyone has a set of duals, shocks and fetches available. For those who do, more power to you, but for some players it’s not very feasible. The other thing is that even if you do use all those fancy lands, without tailoring your mana base to your spells you’re running the risk of playing a deck that’s less consistent than you’d like.
Jake’s guest article on Reaper King touched on this aspect of tailoring your mana base, and you can see from his lands that he has a good idea of what mana he needs by a certain point in the game, and what lands are best for getting that mana. In short, he’s got a plan. This article is about formulating your own plan to get the mana you need, when you want it.
What makes dual lands so good? Duals (ie. the Beta and Ravnica variety), on their lonesome, are not sufficient to power a 5-color EDH deck. But those little basic land types make them so very good. With the full 20, every fetch land you use essentially reads, “Get whatever damn color you want.” And with land type-centric ramp spells like Farseek and Skyshroud Claim, it’s easy to see why duals can make fixing quite easy.
But on a budget, it’s hard to match that selective power. And this is, in my opinion, the reason why all the other two-color lands aren’t worth using in 5-color. They pale severely in comparison to the precision mana fixing that duals and fetch lands can offer. Glacial Fortress and Adarkar Wastes just can’t do what Tundra can do. No amount of oversaturation (ie. stuffing your deck full of quasi-duals) can compensate for that power.*
*An exception I would make is for Ravnica bounce lands, which work best with a large contingent of basic lands.
So, what can we do?
The theory with fetching duals is that every land you get has the colors you want. Hence, in a functional sense, every land is a rainbow land. You may not have the colors you need going into the long game, but for each particular turn up to that point, you’re getting the mana you need.
Fear not; we are also going to turn each of our lands into rainbow lands. But it’s going to take a bit of strategy.
Taste the rainbow
As I mentioned earlier, this article is especially geared towards players who want to build a 5-color deck, but don’t have all the tools they might want. I mentioned in my Phelddagrif article that the downside of using cheaper mana fixing lands is that most of them enter the battlefield tapped, or enforce some other measure of tempo loss. Aside from running bad cards, this drawback is unavoidable but not insurmountable. Like the Cylons, it’s just a matter of having a plan.
To start, how many lands should you run? Mana screw happens to even mono and two-color decks, so we should be doing as much as we can to make sure we don’t fall behind with our more intensive spell color distribution. My 5-color list runs about 40 lands, not including mana acceleration and fixing. The high count lets me consistently hit my land drops, and I offset land draws with tutoring and cantrips.
Vivid lands, Alara tri-lands and Planeshift Lairs form the core of my own land suite. The strength of these lands is that all of them can produce three colors or more. You can supplement these lands with 5-color producers like Reflecting Pool, Gemstone Mine and City of Brass. There are also more deck-specific land choices, like Pillar of the Paruns and Primal Beyond. With a sizable portion of your lands producing multiple colors, you’re less likely to lose out on a color you need. When these lands work together, they will frequently provide the colors you need, and often.
Always keep an eye on the number of lands that cannot help you the turn they enter play. If you run too many, you’ll be severely hamstringing yourself in the early game. Yes, EDH can be slow in the beginning, but that’s no excuse to play with a slow curve. I play with about 13-14 ETB tapped lands out of the 40, which I’ve found to be a reasonable number.
But you have to consider the potential draws you’ll get. An opening hand with a Vivid land and a Lair is just awkward. No matter how many rainbow lands you’re running, basics are absolutely necessary to ensure a reasonably smooth draw. Forty lands, with 10-15 basics, will likely give you a hand of two non-basic lands and one basic land, which is perfectly fine. Basics are great plays on the second and third turns, giving you the untapped mana to play ramp spells or other acceleration.
There are many ways to smooth out the mana in a 5-color deck. When I see 5-color EDH lists with little or no fixing whatsoever, it makes me a little sad because there there are so many opportunities to get creative with mana fixing. Here are some common methods for supplementing your mana base:
Five-color fixers: These permanents offer a greater degree of freedom in casting your spells. Fist of Suns, Prismatic Omen and Joiner Adept provide redundancy in blanket mana fixing. I cannot count the number of times Prismatic Omen has eased up my game.
Green ramp: I can’t stress enough how useful Green mana acceleration is. Not only do they add lands to your table, but they thin out your deck, increasing your chances of drawing business spells. They also fill in the missing colors on your board. My ramp spells of choice are Harrow, Explosive Vegetation, Kodama’s Reach and Reap and Sow. The dude variants – Sakura-Tribe Elder, Yavimaya Elder and Solemn Simulacrum (artifact-ness aside) – also offer great value for your mana.
In 5-color, I think it’s always a good idea to skew your colors at least a bit toward green just so you can run the ramp spells. In my opinion, they are the go-to cards for getting your mana up and running. They’re also excellent for Sensei’s Divining Top/Brainstorm type effects.
Artifacts: It’s really easy to get hooked on mana artifacts because there are so many available. Darksteel Ingot, Coalition Relic and Spectral Searchlight are all awesome, but I’d hesitate to run any others. Getting set back by a sweeper is really painful, and not something you’d want to risk. In my EDH experience, lands are always the safest mana producers.
Mana dorks: These guys fall under the same umbrella as mana artifacts – great for acceleration, but very frail. Like artifacts, it’s good to run two or three (Bloom Tender, Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch), but I personally don’t like relying on them. Unlike artifacts, you can’t use them the turn they enter play unless they have haste, which makes them a tiny bit of a liability.
A game within a game
When you use multiple ways to fix and accelerate your mana, your deck becomes more consistent. Not only that, but you’re always advancing toward the goal of having all your lands produce any color you want. Continually layering these tactics will make your mana base stable, and allow you more design space and flexibility in what spells you want to play in your deck.
Building a 5-color EDH deck might seem a bit daunting, but I find it fun and challenging to solve the problem that is the mana base. The neat thing is that no one’s mana base will look the same, because it will always reflect the spells you’re playing. In every EDH game I play with Cromat, I’m always forced to think several steps ahead about what mana I need to play a particular combination of spells in a turn.
I hope what I’ve written wasn’t glaringly obvious to everyone, and I also hope it gives people a few new ideas or just food for thought. Have fun!