5-Color Humans has proven itself to have the legs to run with the big dogs—this aggressive tribal deck is here to stay. Powered up to the point of competitive viability by the addition of cards from Ixalan (namely, Kitesail Freebooter and Unclaimed Territory), Humans is now well and truly at the top of the format after a string of strong finishes in tournaments around the world.
The core of the deck remains consistent across all builds. Humans looks to play an aggressive game with creature-based disruption, making the most of cards that offer spell-like effects such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Reflector Mage. There are, however, a few “flex slots” that change from week-to-week. These slots can be taken up by a wide range of different creatures—let’s get across the ones you might see at your next Modern event.
Perhaps the closest thing to “industry standard,” Kessig Malcontents offers the Humans deck an important angle otherwise lacking in a deck almost entirely composed of creatures: reach. Ideally, Malcontents is the last spell cast in the game, as its ability should end things then and there by blasting the opponent to a negative life total.
Kessig Malcontents shines on locked up boards, or when the team is stuck on the wrong side of an Ensnaring Bridge. Here, it can offer a way to close out an otherwise unwinnable game. It’s at its worst against decks that are good at keeping the board empty, and generally isn’t included for its ability to tussle in the red zone—a 3/1 for 3 isn’t anything to write home about.
Be wary of Kessig Malcontents bringing the game to an abrupt finish after you’ve stabilized. If your opponent keeps playing out creatures for seemingly no reason, they may be playing to their Malcontents.
Included as a one-of in various recent lists, Bob is perfectly suited to a low-curve deck like 5-Color Humans. He doesn’t hit as hard or as fast as some of his tribespeople, but in a deck otherwise bereft of card advantage engines, the miser’s Confidant can turn grindier games on their head.
Dark Confidant is at its best against decks that don’t immediately fold to early pressure, but have trouble locking up the game after surviving an initial onslaught. A turn-2 Bob is not to be sneezed at in any setting, and he’s still a kill-on-sight target, but the lack of overall aggressive synergy with the rest of the Humans deck prevents the Confidant from appearing in multiples.
If you’re playing an aggressive game, you might be happy for an opponent’s Dark Confidant to teach them just how high the price of greatness can be. If you’re playing a slower game, however, be ready to prevent an opponent from burying you with their extra cards—prioritize it as a target for your removal.
Dire Fleet Daredevil
The most recently-printed card to join the ranks of 5-Color Humans, Dire Fleet Daredevil typically appears to leverage an opponent’s previously cast removal spell back against them. Occasionally you might have old DFD snag a Thoughtseize, but his general role is to be a pseudo-Nekrataal against midrange.
Dire Fleet Daredevil excels in creature matchups, but only when an opponent is running the removal that Humans doesn’t: Path to Exile, Fatal Push, or Lightning Bolt. It’s rare for DFD to have no targets whatsoever, but in some matchups (Tron, Affinity, the mirror, for example), it can be little more than a Youthful Knight. Despite attacking and blocking with first strike, Dire Fleet Daredevil isn’t often included in great numbers due to this liability.
If you’re playing a midrange deck that’s looking to support creatures with a solid removal suite, expect Dire Fleet Daredevil to come down and have something to say about it. I’m yet to see DFD get involved with a Sphinx’s Revelation or a Goblin Lore, but hey, it could happen!
Xathrid Necromancer is an excellent example of how pilots of 5-Color Humans are looking to conserve sideboard slots by shifting cards to the main deck. While this card would typically be seen on the bench, it’s a defensible main-deck inclusion. Xathrid Necromancer is a lightning rod for removal as it will prevent opponents from effectively deploying creature disruption while it survives.
This card is also ridiculous in the face of sweepers—a wrath effect merely downgrades the team to 2/2s rather than setting them back to square one. It doesn’t hit very hard, and in some situations is just a Gray Ogre with minor upside. Like Bob, it somewhat dilutes the overall aggressive game plan.
It’s not too difficult to play around Xathrid Necromancer, but it can be a real pain for certain decks, especially those looking to rely on sweepers to keep themselves in the game. You’re more or less priced into killing it first—Path to Exile is a particularly good option against it.
While it’s not a Human, Restoration Angel has begun to see play in 5-Color Human lists as a robust curve-topper. Resto’s stock has diminished greatly since the printing of Fatal Push, but with so many powerful enters-the-battlefield effects on the creatures in 5-Color Humans, it’s a good fit to the overall strategy.
Restoration Angel is Bolt-proof, flash plays against opposing removal nicely, and she’s an effective beater in the air. There are so many situations, however, where Resto can be an absolute blow-out—not only can it save creatures from removal spells, but re-triggering ETB effects of cards like Reflector Mage or Thalia’s Lieutenant is disgusting.
Having said that, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the read on an opponent who’s sitting on a Restoration Angel. It’s not often that a Humans player will have four mana and nothing to do with it. If they’re sitting there with a suspiciously full grip, be wary about when and where you point those removal spells.
5-Color Humans continues to develop and evolve, but retains its place as one of the most powerful decks in the format. The success of the deck largely comes on the back of minute decision points and innovations, such as which cards are used to populate the flex slots. Arm yourself with knowledge of what you might be up against next time someone opens with a Champion of the Parish!