Prismatic in the Darksteel Era

Posted in Feature on March 29, 2004

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at

Mirrodin block's new toys

Prismatic is a Magic format involving gigantic, five-color, 250-card decks. It's one of the casual formats available to you in Magic Online, and it's a blast. In this article I'll be reviewing the rules of Prismatic, discussing what kinds of cards are good choices to keep in mind for your own Prismatic deck, and lastly, taking a look at the gems the Mirrodin block has offered the format. I hope you'll stick around for a rainbowriffic ride.

A Prismatic Re-Primer

Last year I wrote three articles on Prismatic on the Magic Online site (A Prismatic Primer, Prismatic Treasures 1, and Prismatic Treasures 2). If you missed them and you're interested, check them out. But in case you didn't read them and you haven't played Prismatic before, here's a quick rundown on the rules of the format. First, the deck construction rules.

  • Your deck must contain at least 250 cards.
  • Your deck must contain at least 20 white cards, 20 blue cards, 20 black cards, 20 red cards, and 20 green cards. Multicolor and split cards count as one of the card's colors, but not as more than one.
  • Your deck can't have Battle of Wits in it. (It is banned in this format.)

Prismatic also has a special mulligan rule.

  • If your starting hand has 0, 1, 6 or 7 lands in it, you can take a "big deck mulligan" for free; that is, you can get back a fresh hand of seven cards. After that, you'll have to Paris mulligan as normal if you don't like your hand. Note that if you take a "big deck mulligan," your opponent has the opportunity to take one too, for "free." Same goes for you if your opponent takes a "big deck mulligan."

That's it. Those are the rules of Prismatic. The real fun is the strategy of the format—how you can build the best-interacting 250-card behemoth with the cards you have available, and how, once you see that opening seven, you can manage to eke a win with the resources your colorful deck provides you.

Building a Prismatic Deck

There are two main differences between a Prismatic deck and a regular Magic deck, which have important implications for how you build it.

It's five colors, and it's huge.

That means you're bound to have both mana issues and consistency issues. But those are the central challenges to Prismatic, and both are solvable. Let's focus on both of these issues separately and discuss what you can do about them.

City of Brass

Mana for Your Prismatic Deck

Mana in a five-color format is obviously a steep hill to climb. Although you may get some enjoyment just from looking at the crazy mix of cards in your opening Prismatic hand, counting the number of different colored mana symbols, and congratulating yourself on having traded for all those rainbowriffic rares—it's a lot more fun actually to be able to cast some of them.

Follow these three rules and you'll be well on your way:

  • Run enough land.
    It's difficult to emphasize this enough. Think about ratios when you choose how much land to put in your Prismatic deck—if a 60-card deck runs 24 land, or about 40%, your Prismatic deck will have to run about 100 lands! But won't that make you mana flooded? No—remember, just like a regular Magic game, you start with only seven of your 250 cards, and you only draw one card per turn. You want to make sure that you still have two or three lands in your opening draw, and that you can muster several more as the turns progress.

  • Emphasize some colors over others.
    If you can narrow down your deck's emphasis to one or two or possibly three colors, your mana can improve drastically. For example, perhaps you want your deck to focus on green and white cards. You can keep your red, blue and black cards to their 20-card minimums, and play gold, split and cycling cards like Vindicate, Assault/Battery and Shoreline Ranger to fill up those requirements. Choose splashable cards in your minor colors (Terror, Halaam Djinn, Allied Strategies) and leave the double- and triple-mana cards to your main colors (Wrath of God, Fangren Firstborn). Then you can devote mana part of your deck to Elfhame Palaces, Brushlands, Sungrass Prairies, and a greater proportion of Forests and Plains. That way you'll be less likely to be stuck with a handful of spells with lands that make .

  • Play mana-fixing cards.
    R&D wants you to be able to play your spells—it's true, I asked them. Well, at least I asked Magic Online's search engine for a list of lands and spells that generate or give access to multiple colors of mana. It's a long list. From lands (Bloodstained Mire, Shivan Oasis, Yavimaya Coast, City of Brass, Grand Coliseum, Crystal Quarry…) to creatures (Diligent Farmhand, Necra Disciple, Dream Thrush, Weathered Wayfarer, Birds of Paradise…) to artifacts (Talisman of Dominance, Darksteel Ingot, Chromatic Sphere…) to spells (Rampant Growth, Harrow, Journey to Discovery), you have a ton of options for ways to smooth your mana. In fact, you'll have access to far more choices than you need, even given your deck's impressive girth. Choose an array of these and many other fine mana-helping cards and you'll be playing out that colorful opening hand in no time.

Consistency for Your Prismatic Deck

Dromar, the Banisher

Your Prismatic deck is big – it has about four times as many cards as a regular 60-card deck. Face facts, that makes your deck less consistent. The bigger a deck is, the less often a particular card will come up, so the less often you'll be able to draw just the right card at the right time. You might draw a Fireshrieker without a Hystrodon to equip it. You might draw a Chainer's Edict when you really need to destroy your opponent's Mirari's Wake. You might draw a Plains when you need a creature. But that's why we love it – Prismatic is not about well-oiled machines. It's about the fun of playing the same deck a different way each time, seeing bizarre combinations of cards that would normally never see play, and throwing all your favorite cards into one superdeck and playing against opponents who've done the same.

But losing all the time is no fun.

Luckly, you've got weapons to deal with this inconsistency. Again, follow these three rules and your Prismatic deck will do the unexpected—reliably.

  • Think in ratios.
    How many of a certain card to play depends on how often you want to draw it. To build a Prismatic deck with the right number of each type of card, model it after a 60-card deck you already like. A simple rule of thumb is to multiply by 4 to translate from a regular 60-card deck to your Prismatic deck. If your model 60-card deck has 8 small, cheap creatures, your Prismatic deck should have about 32 creatures in the same role (probably spread out over all five colors). This is just an approximation of course, but it's a handy way to translate to the larger deck size without having to whip out your calculator for more exact figures.

  • Use analogues.
    You can only play 4 Wild Mongrels in your Prismatic deck—but what if you've determined that you need 32 small, efficient creatures? You play analogues—cards that have a similar cost and function. Wild Mongrel is a tough 2/2 with some tricks up his sleeve. You might fill in the ranks with Gaea's Skyfolk, Whipcorder, Meddling Mage, or Nomadic Elf. Being able to find analogues of cards that suit your deck's strategy is a key skill to building a successful Prismatic deck.

  • Mind your mana curve.
    Many Prismatic games go long enough for you to cast that Dromar, the Banisher or even entwine that Promise of Power. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't have anything to do until then. Make sure you have an appropriate mix of cheap, early-game spells so that you can stay alive long enough to cast (or fend off) that Dromar. Again, think in terms of ratios—if a 60-card deck plays 12 spells for 3 or less mana, then you should play around 48!

A Prismatic Deck Recipe

I'm not going to provide you with a decklist. But to get you started, I'd like to sketch out a configurable "deck recipe" that you can use to create your own Prismatic deck.

The rest of the recipe is configurable. Want a creature-licious beatdown deck? Add:

Want a control deck?

Congratulations, you're a Prismatic expert! Now let's investigate what new toys Mirrodin and Darksteel have brought us for Prsimatic.

The Mirrodin Block and Prismatic

Artifacts—and therefore half the Mirrodin block—play an interesting role in Prismatic. On the one hand they are supremely easy to cast, which is a luxury in a five-color format. Want to play that Aether Spellbomb? Tap a Plains, a Charcoal Diamond, a Darigaaz's Caldera, an unsac'ed Terminal Moraine, or whatever your deck has coughed up for you so far. On the other hand, artifacts are colorless, so they don't help fulfill any of your deck's color requirements. Out of your 250-card deck, 100 must be colored spells (mininum 20 of each color), and around 100 should be land, so that only leaves 50 colorless spells at the maximum (leaving aside artifact lands). You could run a 500-card deck and increase your percentage of artifacts, but you sacrifice a lot of consistency that way—at 250 cards, you're already leaving enough of the outcome to fate!

Landcyclers and Your Color Count

While we're talking about fitting artifacts into your Prismatic deck, consider Scourge's landcyclers (Chartooth Cougar, Elvish Aberration, Eternal Dragon, Noble Templar, Shoreline Ranger, Twisted Abomination, and Wirewood Guardian). Cycling is already a clever way to fill up your deck's minor-color slots, and the landcyclers go the extra mile—they cycle for colorless mana and grab you a basic land of the appropriate type. Furthermore, Prismatic games often go long enough that you'd actually be able to cast that Shoreline Ranger or Wirewood Guardian, so they serve a very handy dual purpose. So fill up those color slots with landcyclers, and make more room for artifacts!

A Word about Affinity

Back to artifacts. Affinity is a central mechanic in the Prismatic block—and if it's one of your favorites, you may be sad to hear what I'm about tell you. Affinity for artifacts is a cool ability, but it's awfully tough to pull off in Prismatic. As I mentioned before, you're really only going to be able to play about 50 artifacts (80 with artifact lands) in your deck. With less than 33% of your deck being artifacts, you're not going to be able to count on playing Thoughtcast for U—in fact, you should feel lucky if you manage it for . And for , wouldn't you rather be casting Fact or Fiction?

Affinity for basic land types is probably a similar story. While you could probably manage a cheaper Tangle Golem, you'll almost never pull off a turn-3 Razor Golem. It's a five-color format—your deck is concerned with getting domain (all five basic land types) on the table a lot more than with playing multiples of any particular land type.

So, sorry to the Affinity fans (and congratulations, if you're not a fan). But there are some powerful artifacts, colored spells and mechanics in the Mirrodin block that you should consider.

Prismatic-Grade Artifacts

You're already filling your Prismatic deck with gold cards, split cards, landcyclers and other colored goodies—but hold on a moment. Even in Prismatic, color isn't everything. Here are a few artifacts that should make it onto your shopping list and into at least some of your decklists.

Talisman of Impulse

Mana acceleration and mana-fixing are both golden in Prismatic, and Mirrodin block has arguably the best mana artifacts in the format. For example, Mirrodin's cycle of Talisman of Progress are like the Marble Diamond, except they make two colors of mana. And they don't come into play tapped, so they can be used immediately—not even Star Compass (a personal Prismatic fave) has it so good. Darksteel's Darksteel Ingot is like Drake-Skull Cameo, except it makes all five colors of mana. And it's common… And oh yeah, it's indestructible. My, how our standards have changed for mana artifacts thanks to Mirrodin block! Take that, Phyrexian Lens! (And lest I forget, we already had access to Chromatic Sphere from Invasion, but we're glad to see it back.)

But there's more than mana where artifacts are concerned. If you're looking for flexibility without specific color requirements (and in this format, you are), you're in luck, because artifacts are now doing what only colored spells did in the Prismatic environment before Mirrodin. Culling Scales and Oblivion Stone destroy permanents of multiple types. Cathodion and Juggernaut beat down with a vengeance. Elf Replica and Scrabbling Claws remedy hard-to-deal-with enchantments and Incarnations. Lightning Greaves, Mask of Memory, Sword of Fire and Ice and Shield of Kaldra, and all manner of other equipment power up creatures with unheard-of durability and reusability. And many artifacts do things that have never been done before – Mindslaver, Lightning Coils, and Mycosynth Lattice come to mind.

Speaking of new things, the imprint mechanic brings new opportunities for consistency to Prismatic, which should make you at least sit up and possibly drool. There's quite a list of 2-mana instants that can plug into Isochron Scepter in this environment, and Panoptic Mirror and Spellbinder have even longer lists. There's an opportunity for some Quiet Speculation-Spellweaver Helix craziness that I leave it to the reader to contemplate. And with all the Flametongue Kavu analogues in Prismatic, Soul Foundry is a machine you'll want on your side. (Note to the Johnnies out there: Insidious Dreams are unrestricted in this format…)

One last artifact deserves its own paragraph. You'll have to thank Magic Invitational winner Jens Thoren for the card he helped design, Solemn Simulacrum. Its 2/2 body isn't huge in a format where 4 mana buys you Ravenous Baloth, Lightning Angel, or your second Call of the Herd token, but its Rampant Growth-for-colorless-mana effect is particularly nice for Prismatic, and the draw-a-card effect is not only solid, but downright abusable in evil plans that range from Diabolic Intent to Genesis. Thanks, Jens!

Mirrodin Block's Non-Artifact Goodies

Journey of Discovery

But Mirrodin and Darksteel have more to offer than artifacts. Mirrodin's Core is a solid “rainbow land” that can round out your collection of City of Brass and Grand Coliseums. Glimmervoid is an amazing land if you can pull off the steep artifact requirement. Much easier to manage is Viridian Acolyte, a poor man's Birds of Paradise that manages to beat down for 1 a turn.

Stalking Stones and Blinkmoth Nexus are both high-quality animatable lands – while running too many non-color-producing lands is risky in Prismatic, they're another example of a card with two uses that you won't be sad to see early or late.

I'm fascinated with the potential of entwine cards in Prismatic. Like a split card, they offer two flexible ways to play the one card you just drew. Like kicker, they provide a turbo-boosted option if you've got the mana on hand. Journey of Discovery and Reap and Sow obviously leap out as great land-searching with a potential bonus: drop those two lands immediately or contribute to your opponent's color-screw. Tooth and Nail is an exciting possibility for a format that can take a while to develop; anything that tutors for more than one card is amazing in Prismatic, and putting fatties directly into play is a color-friendly boon, not to mention that a deck this big can pack a lot of cool options to choose from. Promise of Power requires a hefty commitment to black, but let me tell you that either side is a bargain and both together is what is known as a beating. I haven't had a chance to test many other entwine spells, but I like options provided by the word “or” on any card I draw in Prismatic.

Last but not least, I have to mention Fabricate. Any reasonably-priced tutor is strong in a 250-card format, and with so many powerful artifacts suddenly hitting the environment, Fabricate is incredibly flexible for its splashable cost. In this environment you can FabricateGreat Furnace, Darksteel Ingot, Duplicant, Goblin Replica or Elf Replica, Scrabbling Claws, Arcbound Slith, Sundering Titan, Riptide Replicator, Skullclamp and absolute Bosh Memnarch. If your deck runs some artifact “silver bullets,” you'll want to load up on Fabricates.

Your Assignment

I hope you're excited about the possibilities of this format, and I have some good news: you have some homework. But, this is probably the most fun assignment you've ever had: take a few minutes and throw together a Prismatic deck. Shuffle it up and play a few solitaire games. If you're using Magic Online, look in one of the casual rooms for Prismatic games—there are almost always multiple people looking to play Prismatic. If you're playing cardboard Magic, entice a friend to make a Prismatic deck too. Play a match. I think you'll be a convert.

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