During the first week of February, I’ll be in Bilbao with the rest of Team Coverage as we bring the live stream of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the world. For those new to Modern, getting across the huge scope of viable decks is quite intimidating. To bring everyone up to speed for the Pro Tour, Level 1 Modern is a column that seeks to explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at 5-Color Humans.
What 5-Color Humans Does
5-Color Humans is an all-out aggro deck that seeks to include some heavy creature-based disruption while beating down with various cheap threats. This deck takes advantage of tribal synergies (Champion of the Parish, Thalia’s Lieutenant), as well as interactive and disruptive creatures (Meddling Mage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben). Playing across all five colors, this list incorporates the very best Humans printed in the last decade.
This deck is one of the most recent additions to the format, fueled principally by what it gained in Ixalan. Namely, Unclaimed Territory provided another 5-color land to shore up a somewhat shaky mana base, while Kitesail Freebooter added to the critical mass of disruptive creatures.
These new kids on the block have had a bunch of hits already, with both consistent success online as well as some strong tournament finishes. The list is not set in stone—while most lists share a common core, there is still no solid consensus on the optimal use of the last four to eight slots.
With so many powerful Humans having been printed, and given this deck’s recency, it’s unsurprising that the list is still undergoing development.
Patrick Claggett, 21st at GP Oklahoma City 2017
Even a cursory glance at the above list will make one thing abundantly clear—this deck is very, very quick. Its curve stops at 3, and between the plethora of cheap creatures and Aether Vial to help get them out, 5-Color Humans seeks to flood the board early and power up its small dudes with cards such as Mayor of Avabruck and Thalia’s Lieutenant. It does this exceptionally well and exceptionally quickly.
Generally speaking, a deck that is more than half creatures tends not to interact particularly well, but this list has a strong suite of disruption. Kitesail Freebooter goes after the hand, Reflector Mage is tempo-based removal, Meddling Mage is a key card against decks like Storm, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a huge spanner in the works of any noncreature deck. 5-Color Humans provides an incredible amount of interaction without compromising its creature count.
Due to the large number of creatures in the deck, the point removal that defines Modern is stretched too thin. The Humans deck responds to cards like Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile by simply having more threats than 1-for-1 removal can hope to deal with. One or two removal spells can often do enough work to stabilize against an aggro deck. Not so with Humans!
This deck rewards pilots with a strong knowledge of the format, as Meddling Mage in conjunction with Kitesail Freebooter can stop more or less any deck in its tracks. Knowing which opposing cards to go after is critical to succeed with 5-Color Humans, but if you can correctly identify the most threatening cards in any given matchup, then you have a good chance of beating just about any deck in the format.
With all that said, this deck is still a creature deck and still suffers from many of the traditional weaknesses of creature decks. While an opponent’s disruptive resources will be stretched thin, they will still be able to leverage removal against your team. When done properly by picking off a key creature, this can end the game on the spot.
Additionally, and almost needless to say, a resolved sweeper against this 5-Color Humans is very difficult to come back from. While sweepers aren’t played extensively in Modern, a single wrath effect is more or less game over in the majority of situations. It’s possible to play around them, of course, but that will only give opposing decks time to stabilize.
The disruptive elements in this deck are very strong, but there is nothing in the way of creature removal outside of Reflector Mage’s ability. Evasive threats like Mantis Rider can punch through a stalled board, but when outclassed on the battlefield (or behind in a damage race), this deck has no interaction to steady the ship. This lack of removal—especially in the face of utility creatures that don’t enter combat—can be backbreaking.
Finally, this deck does not transition into the late game very well at all. If it can’t get ’em dead nice and quick, it doesn’t play well off the top of the library. The individual card quality can’t compete with the best of the Modern format. In drawn-out games, 5-Color Humans is heavily unfavored.
How to Beat 5-Color Humans
Beating 5-Color Humans comes down to a single thing: preventing their creatures from impacting the game. There are a few ways to do this, and the most simple and straightforward is to kill these creatures with removal. All of the commonly played Modern removal spells kill more or less all of the creatures in this deck. It’s critical to be able to deploy enough cheap removal to then go on to stabilize, so don’t skimp on cards like Fatal Push and Path to Exile.
The other way to prevent their creatures from being effective is to outclass them. An early big blocker like Tarmogoyf or Gurmag Angler can do a lot of work in holding off their onslaught, especially given their lack of removal. Use this time to stabilize and find the removal you need, remembering that this deck doesn’t have much in the way of staying power.
Of course, sweepers are the best way to completely shut 5-Color Humans down. Be mindful of the fact that a card like Anger of the Gods may not get there, but between Mayor of Avabruck and Thalia’s Lieutenant, they may be out of range. Unconditional sweepers like Supreme Verdict are your best friend—just remember to have a spare removal spell for the Meddling Mage naming your wrath effect!
5-Color Humans is a new and exciting strategy that could end up being the breakout deck of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Given its recent ascendancy to the top tables of Modern, the upcoming Pro Tour will be an excellent crucible to see if this deck will stick around as a long-term contender, or end up as a flash in the pan. I’m looking forward to seeing how 5-Color Humans fares in Bilbao!