EDH | Colors to Avoid

Whenever I have a friend who’s trying to get into EDH for the first time and they ask for my advice on deckbuilding.

Now, I have all sorts of opinions on deck building, which I hope to write about further. But if they’re just starting off, I don’t want to stymie their creativity and potential hurt their interest in the format. The worst thing for a new player to do, in any game, is focus prematurely on what’s “top tier” or “meta” instead of exploring the format and having fun.

That said, I like to give my friends four gentle suggestions:

  1. Don’t play 4 or 5 color
  2. Don’t play colorless
  3. Don’t play mono White
  4. Don’t play mono Red
  5. Don’t play Boros

Let’s go through those in order, shall we?

Savage Lands Exotic Orchard Misty Rainforest

Don’t play 4 or 5 color

I lump these together because they have the same core problem: the mana is just too tough.

If you’re just starting out in EDH, you probably don’t have the goofy singleton mana base already on hand. Outside of a ramp or rock gimmick, you tend to need some combination of:

  • a full suite of fetches + duals/shocks/tangos/etc
  • all 10 trilands
  • all 5 Vivids
  • some assortment of one-off all color lands like City of Brass
  • a bunch of two-color lands to fill in the gaps

…and half of those options come into play tapped. You can pretty easily get a working 3 color mana base on your first try, but 4-5 colors turns your mana base into a deck building decision, when you should be focusing on more interesting stuff like deck themes, threats, and answers

Orzhov Signet Staff of Nin Thran Dynamo

Don’t play colorless

EDH is (generally) a slower format, where long-term card advantage really matters. You want to have lots of options late into the game after the fifth wrath has gone off. But to maximize those options, you need to have spent some time early/mid game accelerating your mana.

Basically, the two most important things in EDH are Draw and Mana. I don’t think that’s a terribly controversial statement.

Now, every deck can run artifacts. For better or worse, the good artifact options for Draw tend are limited and slow. Artifacts provide great Mana acceleration and fixing with rocks, but thanks to color identity rules, your options are limited the less colors your deck. For example, the Signets are some of the best ramp cards for their speed and fixing. This is how many you can run in your deck depending on your number of colors:

colors 0 1 2 3 4 5
signets 0 0 1 3 6 10

The fewer colors your running, the less options you have for artifact ramp, and you have to start digging into slower options like Fire Diamond or less useful ones like Fractured Powerstone

All this is to say: a mono colored deck doesn’t get much help from artifacts in fulfilling the two core needs of a deck: Draw and Mana. You can force artifacts to work for the mana in 1 color, but that color really needs to pick up the slack.

Colorless is really lacking too much in both departments. You can build a cute deck with every possible rock that powers out Kozilek, Butcher of Truth for draw, but that’s (a) basically the only viable style of deck in colorless and (b) it’s terribly vulnerable due to the over-reliance on artifacts and limited interaction inherit to the color.

But what if we add one color? Which ones can carry their weight?

Mystic Remora Rishkar's Expertise Syphon Mind

Don’t play mono White

Let’s look at some good colors first.

Blue has great draw options. It has strongest one-shots like Dig Through Time for selection or Recurring Insight for a massive grip. It has the best recurring draw with infamous engines like Rhystic Study and Consecrated Sphinx. The Mana options aren’t great so you have to lean on some lackluster rocks, but luckily you’re in Blue, which is the most supported and versatile color for artifact synergy. Overall, mono Blue is very well situated.

Green is the opposite. Sporting the best ramp, not only for efficiency but resiliency (mass land destruction is less common than Vandalblast and Bane of Progress). Green is completely lost ramping into nothing though, as it has some very powerful Draw strategies around both going wide (Shamanic Revelation) and going tall (Soul's Majesty). It forces you to specialize, but you have options, and the rewards are worth it.

Black has an interesting mix of both. Black had the second best draw after Blue, with decent one-shots like Promise of Power and recurring draw like Phyrexian Arena and Underworld Connections. And let’s not forget the grand daddy of degenerate draw, Necropotence. On the Mana side, mono Black has some unique advantages with all the Swamp-matters synergies. Luckily you’re in great colors to tutor out Cabal Coffers every game, not to mention the mana doublers like Crypt Ghast. Combine Black’s tutors and doublers with the few similar artifacts like Extraplanar Lens and you can get a lot of mana, very consistently, very fast. Black isn’t the best at either category, but it’s probably 2nd best in both, making it very versatile and popular for mono color builds.

So what about White?

Land Tax Scroll Rack Mentor of the Meek

White’s Draw options are bad. Land Tax is good, but only draws you threats with Scroll Rack. Mentor of the Meek might like a mini-Soul of the Harvest, until you realize you’d rather just spend that 1 mana per creature equipping Skullclamp. White has good tutors to grab these tools, but it is overly dependant on them, and the result of your two-card combo is still weaker than a single Blue enchantment.

White’s even worse off the in mana department, sporting merely 1-2 “Tithe” style cards which won’t work half the time.

White has promiment strengths, with some of the best answers both small and large, but it’s just too brittle by itself, and will inevitably fall behind in the mid-game unless you start blowing up lands.

Faithless Looting Reforge the Soul Mana Geyser

Don’t play mono Red

Red is almost as impoverished as White, trading White’s few true engines for unpredictable one-shots.

Yes, Red has lots of looting (and rummaging) effects, but unless you can fill your hand with chaff with a card like Land Tax, you’re still (at best) neutral on cards.

Most of Red’s draw is “this turn only”, which does little to expand your options in the long run, and often flips cards you can’t afford or don’t want to cast. Outpost Siege is probably the best engine you’ve got, and I’d still place it below any of Blue’s more expensive and rarely-seen enchantments.

Red’s standout asset and strongest Draw tool are it’s various “wheels”, named after the original Wheel of Fortune. Wheels are powerful, and some of the most efficient (card per mana spent) draw spells in the game. But they came at great cost. Each wheel requires tossing your hand, undoing any long-term planning. They also massively help your opponents, ensuring that anyone behind is now caught up. Whereas Draw is supposed to make your position stronger, wheels mostly serve to even the playing field.

In the mana department, all of Red’s mana cards are one-shot flares, whether it’s a small ritual or giant surplus. This makes Red a great supporting color for combo decks, but alone, just serves to empty your hand twice as fast, and mono Red doesn’t have enough wheels to make the math work.

Red does have some limited artifact and graveyard recursion which you can use to try and build some draw, but you need to run a commander like Daretti, Scrap Savant and even then, the payoff is inconsistent due to lack of tutoring and sparse threats/rewards.

Played alone, Red mostly does what you’d expect from 60 card constructed - flare out early, then lose. Except you’re fighting against not 20 life, but 80-160 depending on play group. In a format favoring late game, Red is designed to fail. You can run an aggresive Purphoros, God of the Forge engine or a straight up combo, but if your key pieces are removed, it is almost impossible for mono Red to recover.

Don’t play Boros

Which brings us to my last point, which should be pretty obvious by this point.

White and Red can be great assist colors, but they both lack key tools. Unfortunately, combining them doesn’t cover any weaknesses. While you gain with a few very powerful gold cards, you lose the mono artifact doublers like Caged Sun.

You can make good Boros decks. I’ve seen solid wins from Aurelia, the Warleader and other powerhouses. But I have seen just as many (if not more) games where the Boros player just…fizzled out. One too many wraths later, they can no longer afford their Commander tax and enter top deck mode. These colors alone just aren’t well equipped for long, multiplayer games.

You can make it work, but it’s a handicap. So while it’s entirely possilbe (I have a mono Red deck as of writing), I try to steer newcomers away, lest they spend their first experinces with the format staring at a small mana base and empty hand.

Written on February 27, 2018