Release the Dragons (In All the Colors)

This week I knew I wanted to write about a 5-color deck, and I even telegraphed that at the end of the last article. Originally I wanted to do so because I was hoping to spotlight the converge cards from Battle for Zendikar. Unfortunately most of them are not terribly inspiring, so I ended up veering away from that. Some of them are fine, but largely they’re unimpressive. I stuck with the 5-color deck idea, though. Before we talk about the deck list, let’s delve into how 5-color decks are constructed:

Powerful Spells

If you’re going to bother to play all of the colors, you must be doing it for a good reason, and usually that reason is powerful spells. (Sometimes the reason is to jam all of your Slivers into a deck—that’s fine too!) Cards like Maelstrom Nexus, Cryptic Command, and other less Maelstrom-related cards offer effects that seem like they’re worth more than 5 mana because they require very particular deckbuilding. Often cards that cost WUBRG are much harder to cast on turn 5 than the average 5-mana spell, and even cards costing 3 different colors can sometimes be hard to hit on curve.

Careful Card Selection

The spells you’re casting don’t just need to be powerful, they need to be castable. You might think you can cast anything in a 5-color deck, and to a certain extent that’s true. It can be easy, with the right mana base, to cast cards with 3, 4, or even 5 colors of mana in their costs. It’s often much harder to cast cards like Cryptic Command, Cruel Ultimatum, or Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius because you might not be able to generate more than one of a particular color of mana at a time. In a 5-color deck, consider including fewer copies of cards like these.

Complex Mana Base

When I say complex, I don’t necessarily mean difficult to build. I put together the mana base for this deck in about 10 minutes before going out to buy groceries, and I don’t think I did a bad job, but that’s kind of how Commander is with 5-color mana bases. What I mean here is that the mana base will require a higher level of thought in terms of sequencing and selection during play. If you’re playing Standard right now, you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about. Dark Jeskai is a good example of a deck that requires this kind of thinking both during deckbuilding and play.

So, a bit earlier in this article I was talking about building a deck. 5-color decks are often a “best of” mishmash of powerful cards featuring a commander like Child of Alara that just tends to be good most of the time. I wanted to put some restrictions into place for myself because I don’t enjoy building that kind of deck, and all of the Dragonlords I have in my Magic Online collection gave me an idea: Let’s build a Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck!

My first thought, as I looked at Ojutai, Soul of Winter, was that getting lots of triggers out of a card like that could be a lot of fun. I decided that the first restriction I’d impose on myself would be related to that: all of my creatures would have to have the Dragon type. This doesn’t seem terribly difficult at first glance, but if you’ve ever played with Progenitor Mimic, you know how hard it was for me not to include that card.

For my second restriction, I was inspired by my friend Ryan’s Cromat deck—which is to say that I stole the restriction he uses for that deck. I decided all of my nonland cards would be multicolored cards. This locks us out of a lot of really “obvious” Dragon options, as well as most artifacts we’d want to play to generate mana of different colors. Sorry, Commander’s Sphere, but you’re not welcome here. No, not even you, Coalition Relic. Even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is not allowed to come out and play!

I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to show you the list first and then I’m going to talk through the card choices. Here goes!

Commander: Scion of the Ur-Dragon

Powerful Spells

All five of these have fantastic triggers that, if we’re attacking with even two or three Dragons, can really turn a game around quickly. Kolaghan and Atarka are particularly mighty on offense, while Silumgar and Ojutai play great defense. Dromoka fits both roles and can really break up a stalled board.

These two multicolored planeswalkers are both Dragon-related powerhouses. Nicol Bolas sneaks in on account of being a Dragon himself, and Sarkhan, if left unchecked, can go full Dragonstorm mode and kill the table. (Dragonlord Kolaghan will provide haste!)

I mentioned that we’d be playing some powerful spells, and I wanted to make sure we let the non-Dragons have their say. Maelstrom Nexus is an explosive card that, once we cast another spell, allows us to get some serious value out of each of our spells. Crackling Doom is a great defensive card that slows down the development of other players’ boards. Deadbridge Chant provides value over the long term while also filling our graveyard for some other choice spells.

These are some of the ways we have to get our Dragons back onto the battlefield and into action. We—and our Dragons—will likely be the target of some serious hate, and I want to make sure we can battle through that hate and keep our creatures alive and kicking. And yes, I know Haven isn’t a spell, but it fits in the reanimation category, so I needed to mention it.

Careful Card Selection

Only 10 of our cards require more than one of a single color of mana:

Waves of Aggression really doesn’t count, leaving us with only nine of these cards. None of them really need to be cast on curve to be powerful, and the strength and flexibility they provide are more than worth the additional difficulties they impose upon us.

In terms of colors, 33 of our spells cost only 2 distinct colors of mana—that’s over half of our spells. Of the other 24, 23 of them cost three colors of mana, and the last one is Maelstrom Nexus. No Nephilim here! I think this split means we’ll be able to cast most of our spells most of the time. I’m not Frank Karsten, so I’m pretty much just doing this by feel.

Complex Mana Base

Like I said before, the mana base isn’t that complicated. The specific ingredient list is in the deck list, but here’s the summary:

  • 10 Fetchlands
  • 10 Dual lands
  • 10 Shocklands
  • 12 lands that produce 5 colors (with some rules/requirements/exceptions)

Not a particularly hard mana base to figure out. It’s flexible, it’s powerful, and it gives us access to most colors most of the time. We’re on 42 lands because the deck is full of high-cost cards and no ramp, and that might even be low—time will tell. What’s complex is the play, as I mentioned earlier. Let’s check out a sample hand.

Decent mix of lands and spells, two fetches to get us to what we need—seems like a keeper to me. Obzedat’s Aid will even help us get back a Dragon we search up with Scion, so we’re in business. What do we fetch, though? Obviously we don’t need to fetch on turn 1, so we’ll probably just play that Tundra. Flooded Strand’s natural colors overlap completely with the Tundra, so we’ll need to use Arid Mesa to get a land that doesn’t produce blue or white mana if we want to have access to all five of our colors early. That obviously doesn’t mean we’ll be able to generate all five at once, though—we’ll need more lands to help with that. If we want to cast Broodmate Dragon we’ll need separate red, green, and black sources, and our current hand can’t actually assemble that. We can assemble a set of land that can produce the colors of mana we’ll need for Obzedat’s Aid, Invoke the Firemind, and Bant Charm, though!

We need to get a land that produces blue using the Flooded Strand. If we get a blue/red dual, we won’t be able to have all colors available and also have UUR available, and if we get a blue/green dual, we won’t be able to cast an early defensive Bant Charm while also having all colors available, as we’d have to use Arid Mesa to get a black/red dual. We’ve already got a blue/white dual, so that leaves just blue/black—let’s say Godless Shrine.

With Godless Shrine and Tundra we’re already able to generate the colors of mana we need for Obzedat’s Aid—great! Next up is the Arid Mesa. We can make blue, white, and black, so we need a red/green land. If we go get a Taiga, we’ll be able to cast Bant Charm immediately (if necessary) without paying life, and we’ll be able to feel safe knowing we can Invoke the Firemind down the stretch.

It’s possible that including the Mirage fetchlands (Bad River and such) might help the mana base, but I’m not convinced they’re good enough to push out even the worst of our 5-color lands. Give it a try and see what happens!

I’d love to hear about your 5-color decks. Do you go all out on the mana base, or are you rocking a less stupidly expensive set of lands and doing just fine? Do you have no problem casting cards like Violent Ultimatum? Do you stick with a theme or restrictions, or is your deck a Greatest Hits album? Post your lists here in the comments or shout at me on Twitter—I’m @RagingLevine.

See you next week where we’ll talk about building an engine that will propel us into the aristocracy!

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