With Our Powers Combined!

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A topic that I keep coming back to is the position of five-color in this format. Five-color decks generally range from midrange to control to combo, but tend to either be a pile of good cards or an overpowered pile of synergistic interactions. I've already written quite a bit about trying to break that particular mold; to use five-color as an opportunity to build interesting and thematic decks that you just can't pull off with fewer colors. Things like changeling Tribal or Prodigal Sorcerers plus Aggravated Assault/To Arms!. Personally, I know how easy it can be to fall into the trap of building yet another overpowered five-color deck full of tutors and powerful cards; almost all of my five-color decks look like the start of a Child of Alara control deck. What I want to do this week is to break away from that tendency and build a more aggressive, Voltron-like five-color deck. I know I'm messing up my Captain Planet and Voltron references, but I just couldn't think of a Voltron-ish title, and figured another 90's cartoon would work just as well.

Interestingly enough, the first five-color deck I ever built was a Child of Alara beatdown deck, right after I opened a copy of the Atomic Baby at the Conflux prerelease. The deck was a mishmash of good late game cards and mana ramp from my cube, as well as some of the sweet auras from Shadowmoor and Eventide that we had lying around after some drafts. Now, that deck was really interesting because of the tension you created when you started dropping auras on Child of Alara. You could make Child monstrous and force the other players to deal with it, and the card disadvantage that you incur by using Auras is mitigated by being able to Wrath the board whenever Child died.

That's all well and good, but I'm not really looking to build yet another Child of Alara deck. [Editor's Note: This is a lie.] I'm more interested in playing up the beatdown theme: caring very little about anything but forcing through damage, and applying as much pressure to the table as possible without going completely all in. Looking at the available five-color commanders, there are a number of great options:

Horde of Notions has the all important keyword ability, haste, so you can continue to get in for damage even after [card Wrath of God]Wraths[/card]. Additionally, trample is one of the better forms of evasion for most Voltron decks since you're making your guy gigantic anyway, and it makes it easier to trigger [card Sword of Fire and Ice]Swords[/card] and other combat damage triggers. Furthermore, vigilance means that making Horde of Notions a monster on offense will also make it an incredible defender. The activated ability also gives you a ton of utility and reach, letting you clear the way with Elementals like Shriekmaw and Cribswap, as well as giving you reach with Briarhorn and Inner-Flame Acolyte.

Keeper of Progenitus is one of the biggest, baddest commanders around. That said, I have three issues with trying to build a beatdown deck with Progenitus at the head. First, and foremost, is his cost. It's very hard to be the beatdown when your primary threat costs ten mana. My second issue is that he has protection from everything, which means that you really can't suit him up with Auras or Equipment. Finally, if you're going Voltron with Progenitus, you're actually building more of a combo deck. You're going to ramp up to ten as quickly as possible, tutor up cards like Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour, and then people will either disrupt you, or you'll start one-shotting everyone.

Ignoring a number of tribal options, Cromat is the option I'm most interested in. He protects himself to keep his cost down, has evasion, pumps himself, can remove problematic creatures and generate card advantage, and generally just does a little of everything. The greatest strength and weakness of Cromat, in my opinion, is that it obscures what you're trying to accomplish from other players. They can't figure out just based on your Commander what your approach to the game is. This can go really well for the Voltron deck, since sometimes you'll get to Groundswell plus Double Cleave people out of the game; but can also go South very quickly if the people you play with tend to assume the worst of five-color decks.

Let's start building the deck by taking a look at some of the sweet Auras and Equipment that are available to us. In general, I want to avoid the ones that are conditional, or that focus on abilities outside of the combat step. I'd like most of these to have the most effect over the course of a long game as possible, and would like to tend towards Auras to increase the power of cards like Replenish and Retether to give you resiliency and opportunities for explosive plays in the late game.

Auras and Equipment

I'm sure we've all played against the Uril, the Miststalker and Zur the Enchanter decks that get really big with Runes of the Deus and Steel of the Godhead. What's more interesting is the cards that aren't here. Things like Empyrial Armor, which don't interact favorably with the other half of the deck, or Battle Mastery, which makes you a gigantic target, but is likely better than cards like Fists of the Demigod. The Shadowmoor/Eventide Auras are just more thematic and flavorful than a random Battle Mastery. I like the idea of Cromat trying to gain power by taking it from these different deities. There's also something to be said for jamming as many keywords as possible on a single creature!

Looking at the equipment, I'm sure there's going to be some disagreements with my choices, namely the lack of [card Sword of Fire and Ice]Swords[/card]. Personally, I'm tired of every deck running two to four Swords of X and Y, just because Swords are good. I think that these two equipment are more aggressive, and pile on the general damage, even if they are less powerful than the Swords. Runechanter's Pike ties into the next set of cards I want to talk about, and Adventuring Gear plays incredibly well with all the fetchlands that five color decks tend to run.

If you wanted, you could choose to run creatures that enable these components of the strategy. Things like Trinket Mage and Stoneforge Mystic to find Eqiupment, or Sovereigns of Lost Alara and Kor Spiritdancer to power up the Aura theme. Honestly though, I think the idea of this deck being essentially creatureless. Sure, it leaves you incredibly open to tuck effects; play around them if you know they're prevalent in your group. I want this deck to feel more like the Poison decks that have cropped up in every format sans Vintage; you drop your guy, throw your hand at them, and see if it sticks! Because of that, rather than run other creatures that don't contribute, I'd rather use Replenish and Retether as pseudo-pump spells in the late game that can be bought back with cards like Yawgmoth's Will or Recoup if you choose to run cards like that.

Now let's talk about how Runechanter's Pike fits into the deck. The infect decks in other formats rely on cards like Blazing Shoal and Invigorate. For this I wanted to pick a combination of the most cost efficient and the most impactful pump spells available in the game. Auras and Equipment are sweet and all, but these let you surprise the other players by killing them after they've declined to block. Here are the pump spells I'm starting with:

Pump Spells

The pump spells are split into two categories here; the more efficient ones and the more expensive ones. It's important to lean more heavily on the efficient pump spells, since those are what will let you kill people out of nowhere. The problem with those spells is that they don't generate any kind of card advantage. If you can just kill someone, you probably won't mind investing three or four cards in getting it done. However, when you have to kill three or more other players, that plan loses some of its appeal, and you need more expensive cards that are capable of getting it done on their own, or at least making things a little easier.

Monstrify lets you turn late game lands into gas. Seething Anger and Haze of Rage are just pure card advantage, and can add up very quickly. These mechanisms are infinitely more mana-intensive than the one-shot options you have available to you, but also mean that you're able to kill people in the late game, instead of running out of steam after killing one or two players. The biggest issue that a deck is going to have is running into one of the awesome spot removal spells people tend to run, like Path to Exile and the like. Stonewood Invovation is a great start, but definitely won't be enough to protect Cromat. It's worth mentioning that, in a sense, Cromat can protect itself, but putting it on top of your library still means that you lose any pump spells that you already invested in your attack.


If people are going to be running efficient answers, you've got to have efficient responses to those, and this is about as efficient as it gets. These are all one mana answers to various removal spells, but only work against spells like Swords to Plowshares. You could try cards like Withstand Death or Boseiju, Who Shelters All depending on what kind of removal spells you're expecting, but these should do a fine job in a more open metagame.

The thing that this deck seems to be missing most is card advantage and card selection. Now, we could just run a pile of powerful tutors like Demonic Tutor and the like, but tutors like Vampiric Tutor and Mystical Tutor play into a weakness that this deck already has; you're going to be short on cards very frequently, and spending one to find a particular card is not necessarily what you want to be doing.

Card Advantage and Utility

What I want to be doing is turning pump spells into card advantage. Momentous Fall is certainly the worst of that style of effect, but is likely well worth it when you can draw a minimum of five cards. Garruk, Primal Hunter is the most off-theme card in the deck, but it's really just there as a draw seven. Three Dreams and Mystical Teachings are awesome in this deck, because they tutor up some of your incredibly high-impact cards, but without putting you down cards like Enlightened Tutor would.

The rest of these cards are reasonably self-explanatory. Deep Analysis is a card I want to play more of, now that I've been using it playing Pauper decks. Past in Flames is absolutely insane, buying back all of your insane instants and sorceries. Yawgmoth's Will might be better, since it gets you all of your Auras as well, but I think the Flashback on Past in Flames wins out. Winds of Rath may be a little strange, but it's really just here as a way to clear the path for your giant Cromat.

Finally, this deck is going to be very mana-hungry in the lategame, with all of the buyback and retrace cards, yet very color-intensive in the early game, wanting to cast Cromat on turn four or five, with multiple pump spells on subsequent turns. Because of all of that, the deck is going to need a reasonable number of ramp spells:

Ramp and Manabase

These are pretty typically the best ramp spells available in the format. I'm more interested in land-based ramp spells for a few reasons. First, because Primal Bellow is a sick, sick card, and I want to maximize the power of it. Second, because Wargate and Reap and Sow get some absolutely insane lands for this deck. Let's finish up the deck by taking a look at some of those non-basics:

Let me start by saying that Kessig Wolf Run is one of the best lands ever printed. Repeatable Delayed Blast Fireball is insane, especially in a format where you almost always have access to a creature. This card is absolutely insane, even for Commanders that don't generally go into the red zone. If you're playing Red/Green, you should seriously, seriously consider running this card.

Spinerock Knoll is certainly the worst land in this deck, because there aren't a ton of cards that you want to cast post-combat, or during someone else's turn. Only some testing can show whether the card pulls it's weight often enough to be worthwhile. It could always be something like Teetering Peaks or Horizon Canopy if you don't like Spinerock Knoll.

With that, let's take a look at the finalized list:

[deckbox did="a132" size="small" width="560"]

And there's a take on a reasonably unique aggressive deck for the format! Certainly a more thematic approach rather than an optimal one; I'd definitely consider some [card Argothian Enchantress]Enchantresses[/card] and other creatures if I were trying to power this deck up, instead of having it be on the mono-Cromat plan. As always, if you've got questions or comments, I'm always glad to get feedback! I've been getting a number of emails from people looking for help with their decks recently, and it's been a ton of fun to see the different takes that people have on the available Commanders. Next week I think I'm going to be taking a look at a Commander I've been wanting to work with for awhile now: Doran, the Siege Tower.

Carlos Gutierrez
@cag5383 on Twitter

9 thoughts on “With Our Powers Combined!

  1. I built an extremely similar deck with Karona false God as the general with more of an enchantress take. You obviously utilize the Vows from the commander set as well. Love your take on Cromat. So often I see him played as just 5 color good stuff deck so its nice to see a theme behind him.

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