In previous years, Masters sets have revolved around 2-color pairs with a few cross-pair synergies. Occasional decks could branch into 3+ colors, but they weren’t common. This defined very linear goals for each color combination and you tended to end up with the same style of deck each time you drafted a certain color. W/B was Spirits in MM15, U/R was storm in the original MM, and W/G was token beatdown in Vintage Masters. How far you were able to push a deck’s synergies within those confines determined its overall strength, and I had assumed before I saw any spoilers that this year’s Masters set would be no different. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There are a couple of aggressive decks in the format, almost all of which are red and focus on low-to-the-ground curve-outs backed by removal and burn spells. The best closing burn spells are Giantbaiting and Dynacharge for these decks even though they don’t actually do anything without a board. Knowing about these decks is important, because you do have to keep them in mind when drafting. But when it comes to a best archetype, it’s safe to say that 4-5 color control takes the cake. Today I’m going to talk about the ins and outs of maximizing these control decks. Here’s one I’ll use as a case study:

5 color example stronger

Click to enlarge.

Fixing

There’s never a capable 4-or-5 color deck without ample fixing. In Modern Masters 2017, there’s actually so much fixing that you don’t necessarily have to take it over good cards. If you look at the deck I presented, I even have Izzet Guildgate and a Rakdos Signet in the sideboard! I don’t think I’ve ever cut a dual land from a 5-color Draft deck before, but here we are.

The two effectsyou do still want to pick up early are Signets and tri-lands. The only cards I’m really taking over those are bombs. The ramp from the Signets is important, though it’s important to note that many of the aggressive decks don’t really want Signets, and so you are really just splitting them up among the rest of the table. That said, I’ve still found them heavily under-drafted and they are crucial for getting to 4-6 mana quickly, which is where all the power of the format lies in these 4-5 color decks.

One other important facet is that the fixing is mostly colorless. There are some exceptions like Sylvan Ranger, but this means that your main colors can be fixed without access to green mana. This will differ from Draft to Draft, but you won’t have to play 7-9 green sources and green as a main color to support a 5-color deck, and this means that the archetype is more viable. Your color spread can be much thinner then, and getting to 8 sources in your main colors and 5-6 in your splashes is pretty easy. But 8 sources isn’t very reliable for double-color costs, or even cheap spells, and so you want to draft with your finalized mana base in mind. I tend to stay away from double colors in general, though one of the marquee removal spells is Grisly Spectacle and I tend to end up with double-color black spells more than any other color. The Flickerwisp in the example deck shown was my second pick of the Draft out of a weaker pack and I’d normally try to pick up premium fixing or other key components to the deck before taking it or a similar double-casting-cost card.

Bombs

I like to prioritize bombs over premium fixing because there’s always more fixing you can get later. Additionally, you can increase your priority on fixing in packs 2 and 3 after a pack 1 of good cards spread across all 5 colors. The best bombs in the set are Olivia, Entreat the Angels, Simic Sky Swallower, Obzedat, Niv Mizzet, and Deadeye Navigator. I’m taking these cards over every common and uncommon. Cruel Ultimatum is also pretty unbeatable, but has a much more substantial mana cost. Note that on-color Signets help a lot there, whereas the colors they produce aren’t quite as important the rest of the time.

Bombs serve an important function in these decks because they let you build to the most controlling extreme of the spectrum. Without them you have to find ways to win, but with them that path is easy. Just survive long enough to your superior late game and you’ll be good to go. If you don’t have bombs, you can still draft this deck, but you’ll have to win with more middling creatures like Ogre Jailbreaker and Golgari Rotwurm. Of course, in those spots your deck should be filled with good support cards, and winning this way isn’t actually that difficult if the rest of your deck is running smoothly.

Card Draw

Card draw is essential to the archetype and ensures that you can still impact the board after casting a bunch of 1-for-1 spells. In addition, the 5-color decks typically run about 19-22 mana sources, which means they are prone to flooding. Signets and card draw go hand in hand. The more acceleration you have, the faster you can dump your hand, and the more likely it is that you’ll be able to take a turn off to refill. In a deck with a more natural 3-4-5 curve I’m less inclined to want 4-5 Signets, and am happier just focusing on around 3.5 colors. That’s a slightly different deck, but sometimes in Draft you’ll notice a strong concentration of the best cards in fewer colors and this means less need for fixing and a more traditional Limited deck. When this happens, I’m often base Sultai as red and white have the most aggressive cards in the format.

I want about 3 or 4 dedicated card draw spells and then as many cantrip creatures like Coiling Oracle or Sea Gate Oracle as I can get my hands on (though they aren’t priorities). I like to have a mix between the pure card advantage spells like Opportunity and the card selection spells, Mystical Teachings and Forbidden Alchemy. First, the mana costs are very different and it can be easy to get stuck on mana if your 3 card draw spells are 2 Urban Evolution and an Opportunity. Second, the cards perform very different functions. Sometimes you’ll have mana up for Forbidden Alchemy but also Auger Spree, and depending what your opponent does you’ll want to do one or the other. This is theoretically true of Opportunity as well, but controlling the early turns in this way is much more important. Additionally, card selection allows you to fill your deck with a variety of threats and answers, while still providing a reasonable means to find either half.

I usually just want 1 Forbidden Alchemy but I’ll play a second if I have a large number of flashback and unearth cards. The most important of those is Unburial Rites, since Alchemy fuels both parts of the card. I also only want 1 Teachings in most decks because it can become pretty clunky. What it does so well is function as a split card between removal and threats. It’s important to have a Spire Monitor to search for so you can advance your game plan when you don’t need a removal spell, or Restoration Angel should you be so lucky.

Removal

There is a ton of removal in MM17, so it’s less of a prized commodity. Since you’ll have access to 4-5 colors, you can select whatever removal spells happen to be available when it’s convenient, and most of them are interchangeable. The one thing you have to be careful of is getting too much of any one type of removal. If you have a hand of Agony Warps against X/4s you’ll feel pretty bad, and having a bunch of Grisly Spectacle against Dragon Fodder tokens won’t feel any better. The best thing is to just have a mix of both, usually about 2-4 spells of each type. You’ll also have card draw, tutors, and big creatures to block with, so don’t worry too much if this number seems low at first glance.

In some Drafts you’ll be fortunate enough to end up with a sweeper, which can be truly powerful. Between Damnation, Terminus, Mizzium Mortars, Bonfire of the Damned, and Cyclonic Rift, there’s a much better chance you see a sweeper than in a normal set. Pyroclasm and Cower in Fear also qualify, but they’re narrower. When you have access to these cards, you can focus on the small removal like Agony Warp more than you would normally. Card draw becomes even more important, so you can find the sweeper when you actually need it.

Sideboarding

Speaking of Cower in Fear, I’ve really wanted access to one in all of my sideboards. The go-wide token decks are very strong in this format, and having access to a Cower that you can board in is very important. It also gets better thanks to Mystical Teachings, which can tutor it up at will, and can be reasonable as a final main-deck card if you took so much fixing that you are light on playables. In control matchups it can even have some uses like killing Mistmeadow Witch or sweeping a Lingering Souls.

As you draft you want to make sure you have at least a few cards you can board in against aggro decks and other 4-5 color control decks. Against aggro this includes cards like Cower in Fear, but also creatures you wouldn’t main deck. Note that X/1s are like Dregscape Zombie are much worse options than creatures with higher toughness like Gnawing Zombie thanks to Dragon Fodder and Fists of Ironwood.

Against 4-5 color mirrors, you’ll have a much wider array of options, and your board plan will vary based on your opponent’s deck. If your opponent has a ton of expensive backbreaking spells, then Spell Pierce and Mystic Genesis are great options, but if they’re just midrange, these cards become quite bad. Recover is a nice option if you’re trading 1-for-1 a lot, and Goblin Assault is good to have on hand if your opponent has a ton of removal but few actual creatures.

I don’t like trying to board in cards that are too situational though, because the timing has to be absolutely perfect for them to get full benefit. This includes LD like Molten Rain, and Ancient Grudge to destroy opposing Signets. The one exception is if I’ve seen many Signets but few dual lands. That situation hasn’t come up yet though, so it’s best to just leave these types of cards in the board unless you’re absolutely sure they’ll be great.

Before I go, I want to leave you with one more example deck. This was a bit of a rocky Draft and I was definitely competing with my neighbors for cards. In the end, though, the deck still went 2-1 and shows the power and consistency of the archetype!

5 color control