One isn't the Loneliest Number

Posted in Top Decks on August 15, 2013

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.

Commander is a format filled with everything multicolored. Commanders like Rafiq of the Many, spells like Breaking & Entering, and the scores of lands that produce two (or more) colors of mana are the common fixtures of battlefields everywhere.

What if I told you there was another way?

Monocolored Commander isn't an unusual angle. I've seen enough Omnath, Locus of Mana decks to fill my Magic bag twice over. I merged together the dozens of Krenko, Mob Boss decklists that were sent in to me last year. Sticking to one color just isn't an incredible Commander anomaly.

But it isn't the most typical of approaches, either.

While choosing a multicolor starting point opens up an incredible range of choices, sticking to just one color for a one-color commander creates a whole new set of advantages and disadvantages. Fortunately, you were up to the challenge of sharing what the ins and out of monocolored Commander life are all about.

Hope you're ready for a fun day in the deeper end of the pool.

Mishra's Mainstay

I could be clever and brush over the most obvious point about monocolored decks until the very end, but since the type of feedback I received was overwhelming we'll start there.

The most important thing is figuring out what your color does poorly so you can cover that base with artifacts. If your deck has a gaping weakness and you neglect it, that weakness will be your downfall every time.

Andrew sent in this pithy gem, and it cuts right to the core of what many of you already know: Colors have weaknesses. Shocking revelation, I know. But there's more to it than just color pie know-how, as Ed put it:

While you definitely want to play up your strengths in a monocolor Commander deck, it's also important to cover your weaknesses! Fellow opponents won't expect the red player to be the one to remove troublesome enchantments, but being able to do so through Chaos Warp or Liquimetal Coating shenanigans gives you an opportunity to do a little champion-dance.

With a little digging, you can find older pie-shattering oddballs like Gate to Phyrexia that can handle threats modern cards can't. Artifacts are also an option; Nevinyrral's Disk has been covering for red and black mages for twenty years now!

Chaos Warp
Gate to Phyrexia

Kevin, too:

For me, the most important consideration for building a monocolored Commander deck is to know your weaknesses. Building monocolored in any format means you are limiting your resources and your access to certain answers.

For example, any monocolored deck that isn't green is going to suffer not having much mana ramp, mono-black has few answers to enchantments or artifacts, and mono-blue is going to have to find a way to stall the game long enough to set up. Find out your deck's weaknesses and search for answers (cards) that help fill in those holes. There are plenty of artifacts and nonbasic lands in the game that can help a monocolored deck cover its weaknesses. A little time spent on Gatherer or at your local game store could help you find the perfect card you monocolor deck needed to handle that one pesky threat.

If you believe these ideas, things seem pretty bleak, right? There are a few tricks buried in cards to help break through what a color is naturally bad at, but otherwise it's all about playing second fiddle to another? I don't believe it for an instant.

Yes, every color has its take on something it's not supposed to do. Gate to Phyrexia is ancient, but it does its job well. Chaos Warp is a modern twist on the same idea. But I really think it's all about what Andrew said: Finding the right artifacts to do the job for us.

Ring of Three Wishes
Wurmcoil Engine

There are so many artifacts in Magic that you can find almost everything you'd need. Thanks to two entire blocks dedicated to the colorless of the game, many of the tools you'd reach for are closer at hand than you might thing.

Nearly every effect found in a color's wheelhouse can also be found in artifact form. And, oddly enough, it's often as efficient, whether you're playing for the effects with color or colorless cards. And I really do mean colorless cards and not just artifacts. Without the need for dual lands to produce multiple colors of mana, our choices of lands can be a bit more forgiving and provide us with some additional effects we wouldn't have otherwise:

Lands like these add depth to monocolored decks since, well:

I believe the most important consideration for a Monocolored Commander deck is—actually—the mana. I think a lot of people overlook this; mana considerations are more a multicolor thing. But the strongest upside to playing monocolor is the mana base. Easy access to effects like Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Cabal Coffers offer a lot of power.

That consideration has led me to my current monocolored build, Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief. Drana's ability loves mana, and the gambit of Cabal Coffers, Magus of the Coffers, Caged Sun, Gauntlet of Power, Nirkana Revenant, and Liliana of the Dark Realms really help bring out the power of playing a single color (black excels above all others in this regard, though green is more useful if you have multiple colors).

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Gauntlet of Power

Jack's point is looking at the power of cards that key off of one basic land. But going a step further, it's clear that by playing almost all basic lands, it's much easier to add other lands into the mix. Whether it's a spells from a land that keys off a specific type of basic land or comes from an otherwise colorless land, the ability to "get more spells" out of our lands isn't something to overlook. Even artifacts like Strata Scythe and Journeyer's Kite can get in on the basic action.

But colorless sources aren't the only key to monocolored, as Alex shared:

To me the most important consideration for constructing a monocolored Commander deck is that your commander has to have a strong ability you can build around. You've got to have a good reason to give up on the versatility multicolored gives you. My favorite deck is built around Talrand, Sky Summoner. He turns every counter spell into a Drake! He lets me play to mono-blue's strengths; without him the deck's annoying, but struggles to win. The same is true for my friend's Krenko, Mob Boss deck: there's a powerful commander who takes a theme and runs with it.

Talrand, Sky Summoner
Krenko, Mob Boss

Ben, too:

The most important consideration for building a monocolored Commander deck is sticking with the color's strengths. Every color has strengths and weaknesses, and if you are trying to give a monocolored deck a little bit of everything, you aren't doing it right. If you stick to the color's strengths and build upon them, you can create a deck with the power and consistency to generate tempo and put pressure on the opponents to play your game.

My playgroup used to say that red was the weakest color in Commander. Then I built mono-red Krenko, Mob Boss deck that is super explosive, so much so that it regularly pulls wins out of nowhere. It works because red has a lot of depth with mana flaring, haste, direct damage, and untapping + extra combat phases. I focus on this explosive red strategy, and it wins.

A color's strengths can be the core of what you really want to focus on. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by including colorless cards. The best defense is a good offense, as they say.

So what should we be looking at?


Blind Obedience
Wrath of God


Stroke of Genius


Phyrexian Arena
Increasing Ambition


Comet Storm
Wild Ricochet


Birthing Pod
Sylvan Primordial

Every color's strengths are things that can carry over into Commander quite well. And these strengths can bleed into things that go beyond our normal expectations:


Putting what your chosen color does best into the spotlight doesn't necessarily mean giving up access to things that cover its weaknesses. In fact, sometimes the ways colors deal with weaknesses are more interesting than the alternatives you can find.

But maybe it's just me who appreciates the stranger things in Magic.

The Palette is Empty

While multicolored commanders may come with broader choices and options, I find it's easier to explain Commander as a format when you use one color as the choice. With these tips at your fingertips, I hope you'll give monocolored Commander a try before Theros is revealed in a few weeks.

This week's prompt is something that can be both silly and serious: What is your favorite two-card combo in Commander, and why?

  • Feedback via email
  • 100 word limit to answer the question
  • Must be exactly two cards in the combo
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

I want to see into the little synergies that smooth out your decks, the duos that dominate something specific, and even the overpowered twin turbines that wreck games for opponents. If you use it I'd like to know!

Join us next week when we dive into the decks you love. See you then!

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