We’re now replete with details on the Secret Lair product the folks at Wizards have been teasing for a bit. Long story short, if you’re into alt-art promo cards, this product might be for you—and you can check all the cards out here. Personally, I’m partial to the Bitterblossom, the Dredge cards, and, most particularly, DXTR’s art for Serum Visions.
If you’re a fan of 5-color Commander decks, though, you might want to sign up for the “Kaleidoscope Killers” drop on December 8th, which includes foil alternate art copies of The Ur-Dragon, Sliver Overlord, and Reaper King. If you’re already running one of these cards as your Commander, well, you’re in good company. If you don’t already have a 5-color deck built and are looking to get one rolling, I’ve got a step-by-step process for you to follow.
This process should work for any budget. To prove that, I’ll be building a deck along with this process and keeping the cost below $100 as a challenge! (Prices based off ChannelFireball prices at the time I wrote this. As always with my budget articles, prices and availability may have changed by the time this gets published, so keep that in mind.)
Why wait? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Pick a Commander (and a Theme)
You might think that you don’t have tons of options for Commanders here. Luckily, you’d be wrong! As of this writing, there are 24 options for Commanders with 5-color identities. Let’s talk about them and their themes.
Yes, that’s right—you have five choices for Sliver Commander decks. If I had to choose (I’ve been pretty clear in the past that I don’t personally enjoy Sliver decks), I’d pick The First Sliver because cascade is a fun mechanic, or maybe Sliver Queen with only Tempest block Slivers. That said, Sliver Overlord seems to be the most popular choice overall due to the tutoring effect.
Scion used to be the most prevalent Dragon Commander, but then The Ur-Dragon showed up in Commander 2017 and unseated it. Between its eminence discount and the trigger that gives you cards, and the ability to cheat out yet more Dragons (or other permanents, but realistically, Dragons) its power level is quite high.
Of course, there are a few other tribal options available. Warriors, Allies, Scarecrows, Elementals, and (inexplicably) Atogs are all on the table, but if you prefer something not represented here, Morophon can help you with whatever option you prefer. So can Karona, but she’s a bit treacherous.
The rest are a little less unified. Jodah is currently the most popular 5-color Commander and 7th most popular Commander overall (according to EDHRec) thanks to his built-in Fist of Suns ability which pushes decks featuring him toward high-cost, difficult-to-cast spells. Golos uses a land theme and often features Maze’s End or Dark Depths as vehicles for victory. Ramos and Niv-Mizzet both lean on multicolored cards in different ways, with Ramos preferring more colors and Niv-Mizzet looking for color pairs. Sisay wants you to fill your deck with legendary cards across all colors. After that, we get into the “good stuff” Commanders that can prop up any 5-color strategy you’re interested in.
Of course, any of these commanders can adapt to any 5-color strategy on some level. That being said, you should take your time and pick the one you like the best!
I’m going to build a deck alongside this walkthrough as an example. I don’t recall ever building around Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, which is a shame because she’s one of my favorite storyline characters. I have built Captain Sisay Commander decks as well as casual decks in the past, so I’m familiar with the overall legend theme, but I’d love to finally apply it to a 5-color Commander deck.
Step 2: Zoning, Part 1
When I say “zoning,” I’m thinking about classic SimCity, where you placed Residential, Commercial, and Industrial zones to expand your city. A lot of work went into my SNES file for SimCity (yes, for some reason, I had it on SNES rather than PC) in terms of optimizing the balance between those zones and figuring out where to put them in pursuit of unlocking that special Mario statue while avoiding Bowser attacks. (Yes, Bowser replaced the Godzilla attack in the SNES version.)
When building Commander decks, I think the concept of zoning translates over. How many lands will you put in your deck? How many mana rocks will make the cut? Making these decisions before putting your favorite cards in the deck can be really helpful for maintaining a disciplined approach to your mana base. It’s so tempting to “just cut a land” as you make your way from 110 cards down to the perfect 100, and the only thing that’ll do down the line is make you frustrated as you find yourself lacking mana in the mid-to-late game. It’s especially important in 5-color decks, where that one land can be the difference between a card being cast or rotting in your hand due to color restrictions.
So, think about your game plan. Does your commander want to be cast on turn 5, and if so, how is that going to happen? How hard do you want to ramp in the early turns? How important is it to have access to WUBRG early on? How much land do you want in your opener on average? This is a good question for the hypergeometric calculator, and we’ll be leaning on that pretty heavily. If you’re not familiar with the tool, here’s Frank Karsten’s tutorial on the subject. Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
In a five-color deck, I think consistency is very important. With that in mind I’m inclined to run some additional mana sources. This could mean running more than the usual 37-38 land, or it could mean putting some additional Rampant Growth effects and mana rocks in the deck. It really depends on what your deck wants to do and what turns are critical for you.
For Sisay, I’d like to make sure my lands allow me to cast Sisay on turn 3 reliably so I can threaten some early activation while people are more interested in developing their boards than casting removal spells. With 36 lands in my deck, I have about a 78% chance of drawing three lands by turn 3, which is good enough for me. (Here I’m sort of mentally making all my lands into Cities of Brass because otherwise the problem gets too complex for me.) If I were trying to reliably cast a larger commander on curve, I’d likely adjust this number up. The one free mulligan obviously helps here, so make sure you’re using that to smooth out your draws when mana isn’t plentiful! Otherwise, in a deck like this, one out of five games is going to break pretty bad.
I’d like to have five mana sources in total available by turn 5, whether they’re lands, mana rocks, Rampant Growth effects, or whatever. That way, I’m fairly likely to be able to activate Sisay on turn five reliably if I’ve kept her in play. Referring again to the hypergeometric calculator, I know that if I run 48 total mana sources in my deck, I’ll have about a 79% chance of making that happen. Again, with mulligans yet to factor into this math, that seems good.
Obviously this doesn’t factor in lands that enter tapped. Those will certainly slow things down, so keep that in mind if the deck doesn’t perform how you expect. Also keep in mind that it’s nigh on impossible to play enough games of Commander to approach a statistically significant sample size, so if your deck isn’t doing what the math says it should, check your math instead of reactively cutting or adding lands. I watch people do this at local drafts fairly frequently and it causes me some serious anguish on their behalf.
Now that we’ve set aside room for our lands and overall mana sources, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Mana Base, Part 1
So it’s time to start grabbing all of those lands and mana rocks, right? Well, not so fast. We still only know what our commander costs, so let’s not get too hasty here. We can grab a few to get started, but we can’t make the whole mana base yet.
If you’re lucky enough to have a full set of ABUR duals lying around, sure, grab those. Similarly, if you’re the kind of person that can just toss a set of the ten fetchlands into your deck, go right ahead. More realistically, grab your set of shocklands and start there.
If none of that is available to you, don’t worry—you can still build a five-color mana base. Here’s where I’d start—and as a proof of concept, I’ll use this as the basis for the Sisay deck.
None of these lands cost more than two dollars, and some are available for as little as 15 cents. This will give you a respectable start to any five-color Commander deck, so if you’re looking for a solid foundation, reach for this outsized baker’s dozen of land cards.
You’ll need more lands than this to get your deck going, but without knowing more about your deck’s color balance, it’s hard to be certain which ones are appropriate. That’s why we’re not building out much further quite yet.
This is, however, a good time to grab your flexible mana rocks. Here, I’m thinking 5-color mana rocks that can be used to shore up holes in whatever group of lands you happen to draw in a given game. Obviously there’s a wide range of these—cards like Chromatic Lantern and Coalition Relic come to mind—but I’ll be doing my best to stay on the cheaper side of these. These four will go in the Sisay deck:
Again, none of these cost more than two dollars, with some ranging down to 25 cents. If you’ve got more powerful cards available, obviously it’s reasonable to slot those in as well as or instead of some of these, but the proof of concept remains.
Other forms of ramp can also be slotted in now if they’re flexible enough. In this case, I think we can fill up the eight remaining slots for nonland mana production with some creatures and sorceries. If you can do that with cards that can access any color of mana, I don’t see an issue with locking things in at this point. It gives you confidence in your mana base going forward, which is nice. Here are the cards I’ve chosen to fill these slots for Sisay:
We’ve now filled all 12 nonland mana production slots we zoned for as well as 14 land slots and our commander, and we’ve spent only $21.03 on those 7 cards. That’s an impressive feat and a really good sign going forward! At this point, we should be looking at our cards and noticing that every card is either colorless or at least partially green. When building a mana base on the cheap, that’s a common theme, and while we talked about nongreen ramp in my last article, we’ll be leaning heavily on green here.
Step 4: Zoning, Part 2
Land isn’t the only thing worth zoning. It’s time to make sure we fit some key cards into our deck that cover some different angles. Let’s start with some cards that we absolutely have to have—the ones that, alongside our commander, make our deck run. Simply put, we’re slotting in our key threats. After doing a little research, I’ve decided to start off with a Top 8 in classic Magic style, as that seems to be about the right number of powerful threats to start with.
Dominaria has come out to play, with a little help from Kethis. These cards all play extremely well with our legendary theme, and with that in mind, they’re must-haves in our plan. They’re reasonably cheap, allowing us to stay within our budget, and they’re also extremely powerful. Jhoira, Tatyova, and Weatherlight all provide card advantage over time, with Primevals’ Glorious Rebirth and Kamahl’s Druidic Vow giving a burst of permanents. Arvad and Blackblade Reforged are both key pieces in strengthening Sisay’s activated ability, and Kethis? Kethis is just good all over between cost reduction and recursion.
It would be really easy to keep building out the powerful proactive cards from here. Unfortunately, that would leave us without a lot of the defensive pieces decks need. Let’s start with one of the most oft-neglected categories: graveyard hate! This is a category where I tend to ignore research, because I think most people undercommit here, and put four pieces of graveyard hate in no matter what.
These four cards all help us attack opponents’ graveyards without compromising our own—and we’ll need our own for Kethis and Primevals’ Glorious Rebirth. Ashiok also attacks searching and can randomly pull some key cards out of an opponent’s plan. Anafenza, well, attacks for real, and Kaya’s Guile is really flexible. Tormod’s Crypt gets a slot by virtue of being Historic and costing 0.
Let’s move on to another category: removal. Some analysis of other social Commander lists for Sisay suggests that about eight pieces of removal would be a reasonable commitment. Let’s try these:
This is a solid grouping of removal spells—some are global, some are flexible between permanent types, some exile the targeted permanents, and all are reasonably costed. Urza’s Ruinous Blast is the obvious headliner as it leaves legendary permanents behind, but keep in mind that doesn’t just mean your own.
Since we have access to blue, let’s round out our commitment to defensive cards with some countermagic. I think not tossing a couple pieces of countermagic into a five-color deck is a mistake simply because players will start to worry about it after they see one—and if, after a few games, you never have it, your playgroup will exploit that weakness. I don’t see a lot of countermagic in Sisay lists, so let’s toss two pieces in:
It’s usually noncreature spells that we’ll be looking to counter, as we have plenty of other ways to handle creatures. With that in mind, these two were selected due to their mana efficiency and the ease of casting them with nearly any type of mana available—the only requirement is that single blue.
Step 5: Fill Out Nonlands
Let’s review where we are at this point. We’ve selected our commander and 49 other cards—35 nonlands and 14 lands—and spent $55.34. Another 22 slots are already locked in for lands, meaning we have 28 slots left to fill in the nonland category. Looking at the deck list, we’re a little light on creatures at the moment. Specifically, we have nine, and some, like Sakura-Tribe Elder, aren’t really built to battle. Since we’ve locked in a lot of important spells, I’d like to dedicate 15 more slots to creatures to get us up to a respectable 24. We might end up with more, but I want to set a reasonable count just in case we find a ton of noncreature spells we absolutely need. Let’s start with some creatures that do like to attack!
These creatures are all about attacking in some way—they’re big, they’re evasive, or they provide some tokens to swing with. Some, like Raff Capashen and Surrak Dragonclaw, provide some additional advantage, while others like Tahngarth are just available at a decent rate for power and toughness.
These are less about attacking and blocking and more about supporting our all-stars. Pramikon, Kambal, and Baird are defensive against specific strategies, whereas Garna and Gerrard are wrath insurance. Fblthp is a great tutor target for Sisay if you want to draw two cards, and Jhoira’s Familiar provides discounts on other historic cards.
With 13 slots left, let’s grab some more noncreature spells and see where we end up. Being flexible at this point in deckbuilding is important.
I’m looking to fill a few holes in the strategy here. Heroes’ Podium and Hero’s Blade both serve to help us in combat. Thran Temporal Gateway helps us cheat mana. Swiftfoot Boots protects Sisay, and potentially other creatures. Legacy Weapon and Profane Procession are additional repeatable sources of removal. In Bolas’s Clutches takes something from an opponent and makes it legendary so it can benefit from things like Heroes’ Podium, and Bident of Thassa provides solid card draw and can be tutored after blockers are declared.
These four planeswalkers help us with flexibility. Tamiyo can stop us from having to sacrifice things and acts as a potentially repeatable Regrowth. The Wanderer is a great card to tutor up in response to Blasphemous Act and can deal with some monstrosities from opponents. Vraska also acts as removal and can add some tokens to the battlefield—her tokens aren’t quite on par with Sarkhan’s, though.
This card is really fun to tutor up when one of your creatures is about to die—all of a sudden, you have a recursion engine!
Step 6: Finish the Mana Base
At this point, we definitely need more dual lands. Given that we’re running Circuitous Route, I’m partial to adding a set of Guildgates here. They’re easy on the wallet at 15 cents each and very helpful in terms of getting our mana set up in the midgame.
With those 10 added, we’re looking at 12 more slots for land. Before we get into basics, we need a few utility lands. Normally I’d want to add a lot of legendary lands to the deck, but those are fairly costly, and we’re committed to staying under $100. Instead, I’ll simply add a Ghost Quarter for handling a nonbasic here and there and then toss 11 basic land in the deck—three Forests, as a nod to the higher concentration of green spells in the deck that help us ramp, and two of each other basic. (I’m counting those as free.)
With that, we’ve spent a total of $93.68 by my calculations (though, of course, prices may have changed as it took me a couple days to write this and it will surely take some to get out to you!) and built an entire Sisay, Weatherlight Captain deck. Here’s the full list!
Commander: Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
2 Plains 2 Island 2 Swamp 2 Mountain 3 Forest 1 Command Tower 1 Exotic Orchard 1 Jungle Shrine 1 Savage Lands 1 Crumbling Necropolis 1 Seaside Citadel 1 Arcane Sanctum 1 Sandsteppe Citadel 1 Opulent Palace 1 Mystic Monastery 1 Nomad Outpost 1 Frontier Bivouac 1 Terramorphic Expanse 1 Evolving Wilds 1 Boros Guildgate 1 Azorius Guildgate 1 Simic Guildgate 1 Orzhov Guildgate 1 Gruul Guildgate 1 Izzet Guildgate 1 Rakdos Guildgate 1 Dimir Guildgate 1 Golgari Guildgate 1 Selesnya Guildgate 1 Ghost Quarter 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder 1 Faeburrow Elder 1 Burnished Hart 1 Anafenza, the Foremost 1 Kethis, the Hidden Hand 1 Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain 1 Arvad the Cursed 1 Tatyova, Benthic Druid 1 Marchesa, the Black Rose 1 Niv-Mizzet Reborn 1 Samut, Voice of Dissent 1 Surrak Dragonclaw 1 Tahngarth, First Mate 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty 1 Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage 1 Pramikon, Sky Rampart - Foil 1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation 1 Baird, Steward of Argive 1 Garna, the Bloodflame 1 Aryel, Knight of Windgrace 1 Jhoira's Familiar 1 Keiga, the Tide Star 1 Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero 1 Fblthp, the Lost 1 Darksteel Ingot 1 Commander's Sphere 1 Firemind Vessel 1 Mana Geode 1 Rampant Growth 1 Circuitous Route 1 Explosive Vegetation 1 Cultivate 1 Kodama's Reach 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 1 Kaya's Guile 1 Tormod's Crypt 1 Primevals' Glorious Rebirth 1 Kamahl's Druidic Vow 1 Skyship Weatherlight 1 Blackblade Reforged 1 Urza's Ruinous Blast 1 Merciless Eviction 1 Nature's Claim 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Generous Gift 1 Winds of Abandon 1 Utter End 1 Beast Within 1 Negate 1 Unwind 1 Heroes' Podium 1 Thran Temporal Gateway 1 Hero's Blade 1 Swiftfoot Boots 1 Legacy Weapon 1 In Bolas's Clutches 1 Profane Procession/Tomb of the Dusk Rose 1 Bident of Thassa 1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 1 The Wanderer 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker 1 Sarkhan the Masterless 1 Journey to Eternity/Atzal, Cave of Eternity
That’s all I’ve got today. Hopefully this gives you the tools you need to build a 5-color deck in Commander step by step and maybe even do it on the cheap! Tweet at me (@RagingLevine) with your 5-color deck list you love the most so we can discuss them, and I’ll see you next time.