Colorful Colorless

Posted in Command Tower on October 22, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

With plenty of time to play with Battle for Zendikar, I can safely say that colorless cards are causing me headaches. Draft woes aside, the utility and power of things like Scour from Existence and Hedron Archive have nudged my Commander decks in unexpected ways.

It's even displaced some longtime favorites from their homes in decks.

Spine of Ish Sah | Art by Daniel Ljunggren

Spine of Ish Sah is a great example of a colorless card providing generic value that I've now reconsidered. My "junk" Commander decks are built from preconstructed decks, draft scraps, and card swaps with friends. Spine of Ish Sah came from Prossh, Skyraider of Kher's deck, and until recently, it played a role in dealing with whatever random thing I needed dealt with. It wasn't particularly amazing, but the fact that it replaced itself every time someone fired off Akroma's Vengeance felt good.

What it didn't do was handle things on other players' turns, or keep things from coming back. Scour from Existence is as pricey for what it does as Spine of Ish Sah, but trades the return-to-your-hand bonus for instant gratification. Sometimes you just need to nail something on someone else's turn. At worst, you can take advantage of someone tapping out during your end step with a surgical reply of your own.

Either way, the idea of spending seven mana to remove something isn't going to look as exciting as Utter End, but Spine of Ish Sah and Scour from Existence don't need any colors of mana at all. For colors like black and red that have types of permanents they need some tricks to handle, careful colorless choices can make a significant difference.

Color Me Delighted

Using colorless cards isn't just looking at the Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers of the world. Artifacts and other odd options have been around since Magic's earliest days, and thanks to your answers when I asked about them, I have a few choice examples to share.

The first comes from Frank with one of the oldest legends around, Rasputin Dreamweaver:

The most fun I have with colorless cards is whenever I play my Rasputin Dreamweaver deck. When people think of mana acceleration, they tend to think of green-based decks, not of this old Azorius legend. His seven dream counters fuel plays both big and small (and very, very rarely prevent damage done to him—something many people forget), fueling some of the splashiest wins I have ever pulled. Of course, this leads to a perfect home for some of the big Eldrazi titans along with some smaller colorless plays, but the Eldrazi, both old and new, are undoubtedly the stars of the deck.

Another great colorless piece is Conjurer's Closet, which enables me to reset Rasputin's counters each turn. The deck can win through combos, usually by blinking Rasputin out a bunch of times and going big with his mana, but sometimes it's simply an overrun of X-cost spells, and very occasionally commander damage with the help of Diviner's Wand. It has many angles of attack, both huge and wide, making it a hilarious deck to play.


Frank's Rasputin Dreamweaver

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rasputin Dreamweaver
Enchantment (1)
1 Leyline of Anticipation
Tribal instant (1)
1 Faerie Trickery
99 Cards

Eldrazi are powerful, no doubts there, but the array of tiny tools makes the extra colorless mana Rasputin Dreamweaver provides worth even more:

  • Burnished Hart ramps for any deck and grabs two different colors of basic lands for you.
  • Nim Deathmantle lets you buy back nearly any creature, creating an annoying loop once you've hit enough mana.
  • Sol Ring is among the most powerful Magic cards ever printed. I hear it's pretty good on the first turn of the game.

One card that brought a smile to my face was Diviner's Wand. Drawing extra cards is a powerful effect in Commander, and a humble little Wand often stays just enough on the edge between annoying and banal for opponents to leave it alone. Make good use of that time and just keep drawing cards!

Decks don't have to be focused on colorlessness to take advantage of powerful effects devoid of color. Justin shared a two-for-one of adding in colorless choices to colorfully powerful decks:

Ever since the Eldrazi arrived to battle for Zendikar, I've pushed two of my Commander decks a bit more toward a colorless theme. The first is my Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck called "The Downward Spiral," which utilizes your philosophy of active mitigation to keep the game moving. Colorless creatures and Rakdos fit together so perfectly, and I've taken the liberty of playing into the aggressive nature of Rakdos to add two new monstrosities from Battle for Zendikar: Void Winnower and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

Here's the first list:

Justin's Rakdos, Lord of Riots

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rakdos, Lord of Riots
99 Cards

My other deck that embraces colorlessness is my mono-blue deck commanded by Teferi, Temporal Archmage. Because Teferi easily generates large amounts of colorless mana, I've been removing colored permanents from the deck and replacing them with colorless ones. Conduit of Ruin is especially powerful here, because he tutors for a colorless creature—and with my commander in play, I can immediately draw the beast and cast it!


Justin's Teferi, Temporal Archmage

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Teferi, Temporal Archmage

Sometimes colorless power really is just the beefy, bonus-size eldritch monstrosities of the Multiverse. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in particular fascinates me for Commander; exiling the top 20 cards of a library isn't so bad when decks begins with 99, though that's little consolation to the unfortunate target of the ingesting. More importantly, it gets rid of two annoying things immediately and sits in play as an indestructible 10/10 that doesn't automatically loop back into your library.

And the "exile two target permanents" bonus is a "when you cast" trigger—no Sepulchral Primordial will steal that out of your graveyard for an opponent should Ulamog somehow end up there.

There is one final class of colorless awesome that hasn't been touched on yet: Equipment. Prolific question-answerer Andrew had a deck just suited for the topic:

Hi Adam!

Instead of submitting my Kozilek deck for another prompt, I'd like to talk about my Nahiri, the Lithomancer deck. Equipment is (mostly) colorless, and being able to buff any creature you cast over the course of a game is tremendous upside after board wipes and the like. The fact that Nahiri can plus for tokens is incredibly useful, keeping creatures flowing through the rapids of removal.

Most Equipment doesn't feel powerful enough for Commander, but the ones that do are genuine haymakers. Few weapons are swingier than Batterskull, which lays down the beats, buffs your life total, brings a creature with it, and protects itself from removal. Argentum Armor makes a huge creature that is also a free Vindicate during combat. Grappling Hook can help pick off creatures (and has Kor flavor!), while Scythe of the Wretched brings those poor creatures back.

Equipment has a lot of support besides Nahiri, so this deck is a little on the toolbox-y side. I generally don't like Tutors in Commander unless they have a narrow application. Only being able to find Equipment is certainly narrow, and helps this deck find the cards that make otherwise underwhelming creatures into monsters. This is especially true of Loxodon Punisher, who is arguably my favorite Equipment-matters creature. That thing gets huge quickly.

Stoneforged regards,

—Andrew Weisel

Andrew's Nahiri, the Lithomancer

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Nahiri, the Lithomancer
Instant (3)
1 Oblation 1 Dispatch 1 Valorous Stance
Enchantment (1)
1 Quest for the Holy Relic
99 Cards

Equipment sits across a range of power—from the Constructed staples of Umezawa's Jitte and Batterskull, to the Commander-ubiquitous Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots, to the surprisingly-useful-to-build-around Surestrike Trident. Suiting up your sweet creatures with colorless armaments isn't something to overlook, even if it's just a little wand.

All the Colors of the Wind

What makes colorless cards deceptively powerful is that they don't care what colors your deck is. The utility of using any mana—particularly from lands that have other purposes in mind, such as Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Blighted Cataract, and Mystifying Maze—means colorless cards can fill in the holes of any deck. The more colors you're using, the more helpful a few colorless cards to smooth things out become.

Just don't forget that the Eldrazi are really the enemy here.

This week's question is for the digital dabblers that take up Commander arms online: If you play Commander on Magic Online, what's your favorite commander to play there and why?

  • Feedback via email in English.
  • 300-word limit to share the reason and decklist from Magic Online.
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit).
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column).

Commander online is something I've enjoyed off and on again, and I have some stories to share about pivoting into the digital frontier of multiplayer mayhem. I'm looking forward to hearing about yours, too.

Join us next week when questions finally find their answers. See you then!

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