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Carrie On – Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

This week I want to talk about a draft archetype I love: multi-colored greed. These decks play 4 (or even 5 in extreme circumstances) colors. When I say “4 colors,” really they are mainly 2-color decks with double (or triple) splashes.

Splashing in Limited is an idea that I see some players really struggle with. So, let’s start with the concept of why we generally draft into two colors.

“But I can go mono-colored!”

When I hear this I internally sigh, very loudly. You can nearly always go mono-colored. If you only allow yourself to pick white cards from pick 1 onward then, sure, you can go mono. But the truth is you’ll have worse cards in general. The reason the average draft deck is two colors is because that gives you twice as many cards to choose from.

The most common reason I hear from players who want to go mono is the idea that they won’t get mana problems. News flash: you can still get flooded and screwed, even if you only play 17 Plains. More to the point, however, is you gain a tiny edge in consistency by sacrificing a huge amount of power you could gain from picking up more powerful cards in a second color.

Look at my deck from my article a few weeks ago:

[ccdeck]4 Baleful Eidolon
1 Pharika’s Cure
1 Scholar of Athreos
1 Herald of Torment
1 Fabled Hero
1 Mogis’s Marauder
2 Asphyxiate
1 Excoriate
2 Weight of the Underworld
1 Insatiable Harpy
1 Fate Unraveler
1 Cavern Lampad
1 Erebos’s Emissary
1 Warchanter of Mogis
1 Sentry of the Underworld
2 Sip of Hemlock
1 Marshmist Titan
10 Swamp
7 Plains[/ccdeck]

Almost all the cards were black and I had enough reasonably playable other black cards to go mono-colored. So I seriously considered it, but the truth is that those remaining black cards did not remotely compare to the power level of [ccProd]Fabled Hero[/ccProd] and a couple of [ccProd]Scholar of Athreos[/ccProd]. With Fabled Hero costing WW, I figured I might as well run the other white cards, as they further increased the power level of my deck. Running a 10/7 split in lands really didn’t compromise my ability to play my power BB spells, and gave me access to all those sweet white spells.

In Limited you don’t have access to whatever you want. That goes without saying. But the point I’m trying to make is that you have to make the best deck with the tools available to you. Sacrificing a little bit of mana consistency for a huge leap in power can net big rewards if it leaves you with a deck that outclasses your opponent’s. Let’s face it, if you could reliably hit exactly Plains, Island, Mountain, Forest, Swamp into [ccProd]Chromanticore[/ccProd] every game you would have to seriously consider that option because of how individually strong that card is. Clearly that mana is unlikely, which is why you won’t try to run it in a deck not designed for it.

In short, it’s better to lose the occasional game to never hitting a second white source than to lose because [ccProd]Prescient Chimera[/ccProd] is just 100x better than [ccProd]Fleshmad Steed[/ccProd], and because your deck is half Fleshmad Steeds as a result of sticking to one color.

When you splash a card you tend to rely on just a few sources (be they basic lands or rocks like [ccProd]Opaline Unicorn[/ccProd]) to make that color of mana. This gives you some rough rules of thumb to follow when deciding whether to splash:

• Should only have a single colored mana symbol of the splash color.
• Should be a bomb or removal (think BREAD).
• Should be relevant late game.

Being relevant late is important because chances are that you won’t find the mana to cast your splash card for some time. Therefore it has to be a high impact card, which limits it down to bombs and removal, and in the removal category it probably has to be close to unconditional to consider splashing. [ccProd]Gild[/ccProd] is splashable; [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] is less so. If I find my Swamp late it’s fine because I can still use Gild to take down that Voltron [ccProd]Wingsteed Rider[/ccProd] I need to deal with—but I would have needed the Plains on curve for Last Breath to stop the threat.

In a similar vein, bombs have to be timeless. [ccProd]Firedrinker Satyr[/ccProd] is great on turn 1, but really not that impactful on turn 8.

When you splash you further sacrifice consistency. I have certainly drawn 7 card hands where both of the lands are my splash color, so back it has to go. If those basics had just been my two main colors it would be a snap keep. For this reason, your splash cards have to be meaningful and necessary.

I have declined to play perfectly reasonable splashes when my deck is solid and powerful enough that the added inconsistency is not worth it. Considering whether to splash is about balancing consistency and power at all times. Consider that you will likely play between 6 and 10 of your 17 lands in an average game. So playing 2 or 3 copies of an “off-color” land to enable a powerful splash is rarely going to impinge on your game plan.

There are, of course, caveats to splashing. Firstly, splashing is likely going to slow your deck down. You want to be taking on the role of midrange or control if you want to capitalize on a splash. If you are an aggro deck, you really need consistent, early, low-curve plays—off-color lands and off-color spells will stymie your hopes of victory.

Additionally, splashing can put a strain on your mana base if you have many double-color spells in both of your main colors already. If your 2-, 3-, and 4-drops are filled with costs including WW, 1BB, 1WW, and 2BB, the splash is much harder to justify regardless of the merits the card might provide, because those off-color lands only producing colorless mana most of the time could set you very far behind, which makes the impact of splash cards inherently worse.

Ultimately, if you are looking to splash a couple of cards into your mainly two-color deck, the core of the deck has to have a cohesive game-plan already. The splash card can be any off-color bomb to close out a game more decisively than you already plan to, or it can solidify your deck’s strategy—but the splash card will do nothing or, worse, actively hinder you, if your two colors don’t provide enough stability on their own.

Greed Is Good

Being comfortable with splashing an off-color card into any two-color deck is an important basis for the main topic of this article: going greedy and knowingly shooting for a multicolor draft deck.

In a 4/5-color deck you nearly always want to be base green—that’s where all the fixing is. You still want to run a core that is mainly just two colors, since this gives you a reliable way of interacting early until you find your fixing and start smashing people with huge off-color bombs.

Never splash for fixing – If you are running a Forest to play a Birds of Paradise to make white mana for a splash card, then why not just run a Plains…?

A 4- or 5-color deck has to sacrifice more of its main deck slots for fixing than a two-color deck that splashes a third. You especially want cards that fix for multiple colors.

Conveniently, Born of the Gods has added a whole host of extra cards that perform this function:

[ccProd]Peregrination[/ccProd] [ccProd]Karametra’s Favor[/ccProd] [ccProd]Satyr Wayfinder[/ccProd] – Not perfect, but helps smooth draws out and hit those lands
[ccProd]Springleaf Drum[/ccProd] – Also works well with inspired creatures
(Also [ccProd]Gild[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Astral Cornucopia[/ccProd] at rare, but you can’t rely on those unless you open them)

These join the following cards from Theros:

[ccProd]Opaline Unicorn[/ccProd] [ccProd]Nylea’s Presence[/ccProd] [ccProd]Traveler’s Amulet[/ccProd] [ccProd]Ordeal of Nylea[/ccProd] – (Though this is quite awkward to use)
[ccProd]Burnished Hart[/ccProd] – Ramps as well, so extra sweet
(Also [ccProd]Sylvan Caryatid[/ccProd] at rare)

You can pick up many of these cards incidentally during the draft, however if it becomes apparent that you are going toward the rainbow then they simply shift upward in the pick order.

This touches on a crucial point. I never set out to draft a deck that resembles a packet of Skittles. There are times when I end up in rainbow mode, such as when I get passed an endless stream of off-color bombs and I just can’t resist. But, more frequently, it’s when I get mixed signals. As a result, I have the makings of a decent two-color deck, but I’m a little shy on playables in those two main colors. During the draft, I might have a few off-color sweet cards I got passed either early or in packs with nothing left for me. This can often happen in drafts with players who aren’t familiar with a set, so they pass strong cards which are actually in their colors. One color is just massively underdrafted, so a lot of strong cards end up going too late.

This happened for me this week. Possibly in both ways. I got very mixed signals which left me very spread after pack 2. This was further compounded by a problem I have observed in BotG draft: White is too popular.

The truth about white is if the heroic deck is open it’s very, very strong. As a result, many first picks in BotG are white. In the draft, I had taken [ccProd]Ornitharch[/ccProd] first pick, and then I think I never saw another playable white card for the rest of the pack. After the draft I noticed that none of the 6 people to my right (that is, the people feeding me in packs 1 and 3) were in white. There was, in fact, only one white drafter at the table but a few inquiries told me most people had taken a white card early in pack 1. We then all switched except one guy. In pack 3, the craziest cards went by. I saw a pack around pick 5 that had [ccProd]Phalanx Leader[/ccProd], [ccProd]Favored Hoplite[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Hopeful Eidolon[/ccProd] in it. All premium cards for the heroic white deck. This clearly left slim pickings for the rest of us.

I became progressively aware of this problem during packs 1 and 2, and not even in a way I could switch. I got about 14 playable cards in GB from my first two packs but I’m clearly going to need a lot of cards from the third pack (which as mentioned above was instead full of white cards). I already had a late [ccProd]Griptide[/ccProd] from pack 2 along with a [ccProd]Scholar of Athreos[/ccProd], so I was definitely aware I might need to splash just for playables, which isn’t ideal. However, entering pack 3 with this awareness pulled my draft together.

Pick 1 of pack 3 was interesting. I opened an [ccProd]Abhorrent Overlord[/ccProd] and a [ccProd]Keepsake Gorgon[/ccProd]. Switching between the two I eventually went for the Keepsake, which I now believe was 100% correct. I didn’t have many black permanents at the time, and Keepsake Gorgon is a sweet 2-for-1 and amazing at stalling out the game for a [ccProd]Scholar of Athreos[/ccProd] win. Abhorrent Overlord costs that much more and the sacrifice clause on it doesn’t let you use it to stall out a game. With a more devoted deck I would make a different choice, but Keepsake was a sweet pick.

There was also a Scholar of Athreos in the pack that I hoped to wheel.

Pick 2 looked like a disaster. There was nothing in green or black of the quality of pick 1. However there was a [ccProd]Nylea’s Presence[/ccProd] and a [ccProd]Traveler’s Amulet[/ccProd]. I went with the Presence because it can give me many colors (I already had a GG two-drop and many BB spells to consider casting) plus it cantrips. Pick 3 gave me a sweet gift of another [ccProd]Keepsake Gorgon[/ccProd], and I finally felt like this deck might have a chance (the quality of my deck had just doubled in this pack). I think 5th—in with the Phalanx Leader, Favored Hoplite, and Hopeful Eidolon—came a thing a beauty… [ccProd]Prophet of Kruphix[/ccProd]. If you haven’t seen this card in action in Limited yet, then let me summarize it for you: BOMB! She may only be a 2/3 for 5, but you get to power out your hand and all your creatures get pseudo-vigilance. Oh, and your opponent can’t attack, for fear of a flashed in blocker to change the math.

I look at this card, not as an awkward splash but as a savior. I now had a plan. With this I had picked up a bunch of high priority/high impact cards, a solid GB shell, and a bunch of removal. While I looked to be splashing both white and blue I already had two pieces of fixing with [ccProd]Sylvan Caryatid[/ccProd] and that [ccProd]Nylea’s Presence[/ccProd]. With the Prophet pick-up, I now felt I was going to get 23 sweet playables. Also just pause for a second to consider how ridiculously insane Scholar of Athreos is going to be with a Prophet of Kruphix in play…

I rounded out the pack by wheeling that 2nd Scholar and the Traveler’s Amulet, as well as picking up a few more filler pieces. This was my final build:

[ccdeck]1 Swordwise Centaur
1 Nyxborn Eidolon
1 Leafcrown Dryad
2 Scholar of Athreos
1 Agent of Horizons
1 Pheres-Band Tromper
2 Keepsake Gorgon
1 Sip of Hemlock
1 Griptide
1 Time to Feed
1 Pharika’s Cure
1 Nylea’s Presence
1 Traveller’s Amulet
1 Bile Blight
1 Weight of the Underworld
1 Necrobite
1 Siren Song Lyre
1 Prophet of Kruphix
1 Mistcutter Hydra
1 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Herald of Torment
8 Swamp
7 Forest
1 Plains
1 Island[/ccdeck]

This deck survives early while establishing its mana and then winning the long game with one of its bombs or simply draining with Scholar. There are a lot of defensive creature in the deck allowing that Scholar to take over. You can see, thanks to my fixing, that I only needed to play the one Island and the one Plains.

I’ve certainly played bombier 4-color decks, but I should probably consider Scholar a bomb after just how many draft games it has won me, and yet I can still wheel it…

This deck, for reference, did not drop a game, an easy 3-0 and so enjoyable to play. Yes, I probably got a touch lucky not to have any mana issues at all, but the deck was designed to limit that risk. Meanwhile I rescued a failing draft by playing the highest power cards I could sensibly get my hands on.

I hope you’ve learned something from this and I’ll see you next week.

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