IntotheAether is Prismatastic

Posted in Feature on February 8, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

JMS returns to Prismatic

I've played a lot of Prismatic recently. I loved the format after I first explored it, playing game after game with my fledgling Door to Nothingness deck. The problem was that by December I still only had one Prismatic deck built, which made my enthusiasm to play games begin to slow. Then new Bannings hit, causing me either to retool the Door deck or come up with a new deck altogether. No prize for guessing which option appealed to me.

For those unfamiliar with my earlier articles on Prismatic, the basic rules are:

As I've said repeatedly, if you want to dive into Prismatic I highly recommend looking at Doug Beyer's articles. Doug is the Prismatic King, and I think he spends more time thinking about the format than any other Magic Online player.

Today I'm going to peek into the current world of Prismatic and talk through my new deck. In the future, expect me to regularly have these sorts of “quick hit” articles on formats I've previously covered.

Notes From A Prismatic Player

The more I play Prismatic, the more I slowly “get” it as a format. I'll share a few observations that may be helpful to you if you're a beginner or thinking of diving in. Some of these are things that Doug has already mentioned and some may not mirror your own experience. If you disagree with me or have further insight, feel free to post your thoughts on the Message Boards.

One caveat first: Recently Magic Online has begun to offer sanctioned tournaments for Prismatic every Sunday at 10am Pacific with 2x prizes (there are regular tourneys for Singleton as well). I haven't yet played in one of these tournaments, though I'm not opposed to trying if ever I find a deck that's cool enough. In any case, don't consider my musings as insights into how to win a Prismatic tourney. Just like you wouldn't want my flip shenanigans to inform you on how to win a sanctioned Standard tournament, my thoughts on Prismatic should be primarily aimed at the Casual Decks room. Consider me an intermediate Prismatic player who plans on playing the format regularly.

Note #1: Prismatic is not a budget format.

I'm very sensitive to making Magic a beginner-friendly game. It's why I enjoy things like my preconstructed experiment so much and explore formats like PDC. All things being equal, I enjoy talking about budget-friendly formats more than others because I think they are formats that the widest audience can enjoy.

That said, Prismatic is not a budget-friendly format. Can you make an inexpensive Prismatic deck? Absolutely. Will you win a lot of games with such a deck? Unlikely. Prismatic is a lot like Vintage in that it begs you to make a sizeable commitment for your first deck. Once you have a deck, though, you can spend months--or even years--tinkering and tuning it without a huge amount of incremental investment. This makes Prismatic a great format for those who adopt pet decks and refuse to let them go. It also makes Prismatic a format in which you (and your deck) gain mastery the longer you're in it.

There are three big things keeping Prismatic a relatively high-investment format: First, Invasion Block has been the multicolor block in Magic's history, so many of the best cards for Prismatic are from either Invasion, Planeshift, or Apocalypse. These sets also happen to be the first sets available to Magic Online and thus the most rare. Even Invasion Block commons like Thornscape Battlemage are hard to find in people's trade binders, much less power uncommons like Flametongue Kavu or sought-after rares like Pernicious Deed and Vindicate. The Invasion Dragons (a la Rith, the Awakener) seem to be some sort of status symbol for Timmy-minded Prismatic decks.

Second, because Prismatic is a format that demands access to all five colors, there is a heavy emphasis on multicolor lands. As you know, most of these lands (City of Brass, the 7th Edition and Apocalypse painlands, the Onslaught fetchlands, etc.) are also rare and difficult to obtain. You can certainly make a Prismatic deck without access to rare multicolor lands. For example, almost anyone can find a set of Mirrodin's Core, Wayfarer's Bauble, Rampant Growth, Kodama's Reach, etc. But most Prismatic decks use these cards and multicolor lands, which means, on average, without the lands you will be more subject than your opponent to my note #3 below.

Finally, one of the key things that makes Prismatic fun is that the games are decided by big, splashy spells doing big, splashy things. These splashy cards (Decree of Pain, Exalted Angel, Keiga, the Tide Star, Clearwater Goblet) also happen to be rare. Again, you can get by on Twisted Abominations and Magma Jets, but most Prismatic players sling Darksteel Collosi at each other willy-nilly.

I don't mean to be discouraging, though. If you don't want to trade a lot for a solid first deck and/or you have a small pool of cards, feel free to toss what you have into a Prismatic deck and have at it. As your familiarity with the format and collection both grow, you can swap out the less powerful cards, fix mana issues, and generally improve your deck as you go, and you certainly won't be the only one playing these kinds of decks in the Prismatic room.

Note #2: Prismatic's two games: Mana and Bashing.

Step 1: Mana. Step 2: Do horrible things to your opponent.For some reason I've been really amused recently that the first four or five turns of a Prismatic game are usually non-interactive. Players play land carefully, usually pop off a Wayfarer's Bauble or two, use Kodama's Reach and Explosive Vegetation to shore up their land, all concentrating on making sure they have a stable base of mana. Very rarely does a legitimate threat appear early in a Prismatic game. It's almost as if the players have shaken hands and agreed to wait five turns to see how much land they can accrue before pounding on one another.

In essence, then, there are almost two distinct subgames in Prismatic. The first subgame is to see how stable a five-color manabase each player can establish during the early “grace period” of turns. After that, the game turns into a violent bloodbath of who can beat on whom with the biggest stick. The most fun Prismatic games are those in which each player can get access to all five colors and about eight mana by turn five, then spend the remaining games lighting the sky with planeswalker fury.

Note #3: Mana “issues” are a big part of Prismatic. But the payoff is worth it.

Unfortunately, not all games get off to the ideal “five-color, eight-mana” start I described. I remember reading Doug's Prismatic primers and him describing the fact that manascrew (that is, not having access to the mana you need to play the cards in your hand) was something a Prismatic player just had to accept. It's only after playing fifty or so Prismatic games that I truly appreciate what he was saying. With almost a hundred land in your deck and over a hundred-and-fifty non-land cards (many of which are used to smooth out mana), it's entirely likely to play a game with all of your land hiding. Or maybe you miraculously find only two colors in fifteen turns. Or maybe you get access to black, red, blue, and green with all white cards in hand. Or maybe you find all mana, each card you draw another Harrow or Sakura-Tribe Elder. In other words, variation in Prismatic is high (which, generally speaking, is part of its allure). Mana issues are a part of any Magic experience, but they are particularly acute in Prismatic.

Thankfully, Prismatic players tend to be pretty forgiving when it comes to manascrew. Players who are either mana-flooded or can't seem to get going shrug and don't get too frustrated. Players who easily smash an all-Swamps player sigh sympathically. Both players know that if they get one good game out of three with each other--tapping into the planeswalker fury I mentioned before--that game will be worth the two other false starts.

Note #4: Cards are good--really good--if they get around the 250-card limit.


Maybe this is a big “duh,” but if you look at the banned list for Prismatic, you'll notice that most of the cards fall into the “tutor” category. The idea of a 250-card format is to promote diversity, both within-game and across-game. Tutors nullify the randomness of having a big deck, so they tend to be no fun in Prismatic and thus get banned.

Not all tutors are banned, however. Expensive, slow tutors like Planar Portal and Golden Wish still exist, as do highly specialized tutors like Fierce Empath, Time of Need, and Merchant Scroll. Both expensive and specialized tutors are the current staple of Prismatic. Avarax has risen in popularity since the bannings, for example. It was after getting beaten by Avarax three games in a row against three different opponents that I realized how helpful it is to have cards that minimize randomness whenever possible.

There aren't a lot of them, but there are also some silly-good cards in decks with lots of cards. The two that come to mind are Arc-Slogger and Tainted Pact. Both seem to be designed with a 60-card (or 40-card, in Limited) deck in mind and thus become juggernauts in Prismatic.

Okay, enough of the Prismatic notebook. I've tired of Door to Nothingness, so now it's time for a new foray into Prismatic deckbuilding...


It took me a long time to find a deck theme for Prismatic that I enjoyed. I first started thinking about a new deck after my precon experiment, and so I guess it was natural that I tried a Prismatic Samurai deck. I used White, Red, and Black for Samurai, with Green providing mana-fixing and Blue providing card-drawing. The deck used lots of equipment, too, and searched out Godo, Bandit Warlord with either Fierce Empath or Time of Need. All in all, it was a pretty spiffy idea. I quickly got a little burned out on Samurai, though, and after drawing Numai Outcast an inexplicable number of games, switched strategies. Never fear, though: I will return to the Samurai Prismatic idea once Kamigawa Block has run its course.

My next idea was to build a good 'ole Sorceries deck, using things like Anarchist, Panoptic Mirror, Magnivore, Mischievous Quanar, Recoup, Mirari, and Uyo, Silent Prophet. The deck came together well enough, except that I kept losing with it. After two evenings of getting my face beat in repeatedly I decided maybe Sorceries weren't the answer.

Undaunted, I sat down to really think through a Prismatic idea with some staying power. What about, I mused, if I just focused on the spirit of Prismatic and focused on a truly no-holds-barred-five-color deck? Here was my reasoning:


What cards have all five colors in their casting cost? Well, there's Atogatog, Fifth Dawn's Bringers (sort of), Cromat, Last Stand, Sliver Overlord, Karona, False God, and Coalition Victory. I'll throw the Invasion Dragon Legends in there too, since as a set they're fairly five-color in spirit. What would it be like to use all of these cards in the same deck? Well, it's a deck that would require Atogs and Slivers in abundance, and Bringer of the Black Dawn is banned. Other than that, though, I didn't see a problem.

Okay, then, what about Sunburst? Which cards could I use five colors to cast? Arcbound Wanderer, Clearwater Goblet, Engineered Explosives, Heliophial, Lunar Avenger, Sawtooth Thresher, Skyreach Manta, Solarion, Spinal Parasite, and Suncrusher. I threw Etched Oracle and Emblazoned Golem into the mix since the latter is Sunburst in spirit and the former belongs in pretty much any five-color deck.

Back to Invasion Block. What cards reward me for using all five basic land types? Allied Strategies, Collapsing Borders, Collective Restraint, Draco, Evasive Action, Exotic Curse, Exotic Disease, Gaea's Might, Global Ruin, Kavu Scout, Magnigoth Treefolk, Ordered Migration, Planar Despair, Power Armor, Samite Pilgrim, Stratadon, Strength of Unity, Tek, Tribal Flames, Wandering Stream, Wayfaring Giant, and Worldly Counsel. I didn't necessarily want to use all of these cards (which was true of the Sunburst list too), but there was plenty here to get excited about. I also added All Suns' Dawn and Spirit of Resistance to my mental list, each of which rewarded me for having multicolor permanents.

These lists became the backbone of my deck. I ended up quickly dropping the Atog theme because of an inability to fit it in, along with several other cards that either didn't fit my style or just seemed bad (Spinal Parasite comes to mind). In came an equal number of cards from each color so that I could keep the manabase freakishly five-color pure. Mana-fixers, Eternal Witness, and Time of Need in Green. Burn in Red. Creature-kill and Reaping the Graves in Black. Card-drawing in Blue. After several games I dropped all of the Slivers except for a single Sliver Overlord (to combat other Sliver decks) and instead added a full compliment of Honden. At one point the deck started going rare-crazy, but I dropped things like Akroma's Vengeance, Decree of Pain, Bringer of the Red Dawn, and Collective Restraint for cards I thought would be more fun for me to play. I also ended up dipping more heavily into Green.

Eventually, I came up with this outrageous decklist:


Download Arena Decklist

Why the exclamation point? I have no idea. I don't even know why the thing is called “prismatastic”(!), really. At some point I started advertising Prismatic games in the Casual room as [WUBRG]Prismatastic![WUBRG] and it sort of stuck.

If you have ideas or thoughts on how to improve the deck while preserving the theme, be my guest. If you have Prismatic tournament experience and want to brag about that on the Message Boards, I'd welcome that too. And by all means, throw your own two-hundred-and-fifty cards together and meet me in the Casual room to show me what you've got.

The Non-Tales From Betrayers

Since Betrayers of Kamigawa happens to be on many Magic players' minds, I thought now would be a good time to bug (heh... I'm so punny) the Magic Online programmers for fun Betrayers developer stories. I e-mailed Alan Comer, Rachel Reynolds, and Elf (who's Elf? find out in two weeks!) to be thinking about what stories they'd like to share. They didn't answer right away, but I figured they were concocting something. Then the deadline for my article approached, so I pressed them a little. Still no answer. Finally, we ended up having a conversation that went something like this (okay, I'm embellishing) (okay, a lot):

JMS: Deadline's here! What stories do you all have from Betrayers you can share?

AC/RR/Elf: (silence)

JMS: You guys mad at me or something? On strike?

RR: Um, no. It's just that...

JMS: What?

AC: Ah, see. There are no Betrayers stories.

JMS: (silence) You're kidding me.

AC: Nope.

JMS: None at all? Nothing unexpectedly challenging? Nothing like the flip cards from Champions you had to get creative on?

AC: Nope.

JMS: Come on! There has to be something!

Elf: Well...

JMS: Yes, speak up you in the back there.

Elf: Well, something happened with Sway of the Stars. It was working great, but seemingly randomly you would sometimes draw less than the seven cards. Turns out that if there were tokens in the game it was shuffling them into your deck. If it did that and then tried to deal a token to you it would of course just poof, so you'd end up with less than seven cards. We noticed that pretty quickly and fixed it, though.

JMS: Okay, that's a good start. What else?

AC/RR/Elf: (silence)

Elf: Oo! Oo! I know! Takeno's Cavalry worked at first to deal damage to “attacking creatures” and “blocking spirits” instead of “attacking spirits” and “blocking spirits.” We fixed that quickly too, though.

JMS: That's it!?!

AC: We sort of noticed everything quickly and fixed it. Sorry Jay. Betrayers was easy.

JMS: (sighs) Alright. Thanks for trying. Try to mess something up in Saviors, though, alright? I can't make up another dialogue like this.

AC: Will do.

Next Week: dun Dun DUN!

The five finalists sent me their “guest column” articles on Clans last week. I have picked a winner, and the first-ever guest article will appear next week in my normal Into The Aether slot. I have no idea how I'll spend my vacation, but I'm thinking it will have something to do with In-N-Out Burger and Teen Titans episodes on TiVo. Yeehaw! See you in two weeks!


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