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March 30, 2016

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Puzzling over Five-Colour-Tutors in Modern

When I started playing modern my intention was to own a single deck and just play it forever. It started with Living End, but it wasn’t long before I started acquiring cards for other decks and my collection grew to include Black/White Tokens, Skred Red, and Black/Green Infect. With the one-deck-dream down in flames, I went to the polar opposite of collecting more modern decks than I could ever realistically play let alone master. Something unusual won an online event? And I can complete it for $10-20 in cards? Sign me up! This winning strategy has left me with powerhouse decks like Undying Pongify, Boros Stax, Skred Swans, and BW avatars for those days when I just don’t feel up to playing my Tarmogoyfs or Snapcaster Mages. My most recent indulgence in the never-ending saga of tier-three-jank is based on perceived synergy between these two cards:

 

They’re both multicolour! They both tutor! The list below went 5-0 in a Magic Online Event! And lo and behold I was just a Mangara of Corondor and some commons short of said list, so of course I had to have it:

Crazy 5C Tutor Brew

Creatures (27)
Acidic Slime
Arbor Elf
Birds of Paradise
Deceiver Exarch
Eternal Witness
Glen Elendra Archmage
Obstinate Baloth
Restoration Angel
Sea Gate Oracle
Sylvan Caryatid
Village Bell-Ringer
Wall of Omens
Glissa, the Traitor
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Mangara of Corondor

Spells (13)
Dimir Signet
Utopia Sprawl
Bring to Light
Glittering Wish
Primal Command

Lands (20)
Forest
Mountain
Plains
Breeding Pool
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Bounding Krasis
Izzet Staticaster
Rhox War Monk
Sin Collector
Fracturing Gust
Kolaghan’s Command
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Xenagos, the Reveler
Bring to Light
Crumble to Dust
Maelstrom Pulse
Safewright Quest
Slaughter Games
Supreme Verdict
Void

What is this pile? I had no idea, but the chance to play Void, Mangara of Corondor, Safewright Quest, and Xenagos, the Reveler together in some kind of semi-competitive Modern deck was just too good to pass up. I made one tweak – replacing the Glissa, the Traitor for a Baneslayer Angel, but otherwise kept to the list.

At its core I surmise this is a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo deck where Bring to Light acts as additional copies of everyone’s favourite five mana 2/2. But from there it spirals into a bit of a toolbox deck where either Bring to Light or Glittering Wish can find various situationally powerful cards. But what is Xenagos, the Reveler for? Why do I have Safewright Quest in the sideboard? And how does anyone justify a single copy of a Sea Gate Oracle or Sylvan Caryatid? As a truly rogue build there were no primers or guides to explain these things – so it has been a long series of trial and error to try and unravel the mystery.

My biggest question really goes to the mana base. Five colour decks are easily workable in modern with fetchlands and shocklands – but you don’t generally make every single one of them green. I assume this was done to improve the consistency of Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl, but I found it caused more consistency issues than it solved. It is difficult if not outright impossible to choose the correct land to fetch or colour to name with Utopia Sprawl in the early game, as you won’t know whether it’s more important to prepare to cast a fully converged Bring to Light, pull a Supreme Verdict out of the sideboard, or hardcast a Kiki-Jiki. Also, while I do believe that the Elf-Sprawl engine belongs in more decks, I don’t believe this is one of them. A dream scenario of turn one Arbor Elf, turn two Utopia Sprawl leads to an “explosive” turn two Restoration Angel here – which is pretty bad upside to an otherwise amazing opening sequence. Going forward I’d mix up the shocklands more and look at a different suite of mana dorks.

The next question is how the deck compares to similar strategies. I like a strange-looking deck as much as the next brewmaster, but I prefer it to do something patently unusual rather than being “Jund with Sprouting Thrinax”. So if this is a Kiki-Jiki toolbox deck, why am I playing it over the proven Chord of Calling version? This deck has a more versatile toolbox including access to cards like Slaughter Games and Fracturing Gust (in game one via Glittering Wish no less!), but it tutors at sorcery speed where Chord tutors at instant speed. Between that and the loss of Convoke synergy with things like Wall of Omens the advantage clearly goes to the Chord version.

 

Another fair comparison would be the Scapeshift decks that use Bring to Light to find silver bullets and ultimately Scapeshift itself. The Scapeshift toolbox is a lot tamer, with just a few cards like Anger of the Gods, Obstinate Baloth, and Supreme Verdict as targets, but it then uses Bring to Light for its namesake, destroying the opponent in an 18 to 36 damage barrage of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers. The synergy in the Scapeshift deck is also amazing – as the same cards that ramp into that lethal Scapeshift also fix mana and accelerate into the Bring to Light toolbox – eat your heart out Utopia Sprawl for Kiki Jiki. Just as Five-Color-Tutors feels patently inferior to Kiki-Chord as a Kiki-Jiki Toolbox deck, it also feels patently inferior to Scapeshift as a Bring-To-Light toolbox deck with a combo finish. Sure, Scapeshift can’t Glittering Wish for a game one Izzet Staticaster – but when it casts a converged Bring to Light to win the game it doesn’t fizzle in response to a Lightning Bolt.

 

So, to the surprise of no-one this wild looking deck did not turn out to be a hidden gem ready to rocket into tier one status. It’s a watered down hybrid of two existing decks, and the slight advantages of the hybridization simply do not justify the increased clunkiness of the manabase an the loss of synergy between cards. But how did some of those strange cards play out? Was there anything salvageable out of the mishmash of ideas here? Some take-aways from the experiment:

Glittering Wish is good, but you really want to cast the target spell the same turn you tutor for it. This means that ramping into five or more mana is crucial to the effectiveness of the “Wishboard”. It also means that in general you only sideboard in your high mana cost cards, as its more reliable to just Wish for cards that cost three or less.

I tutored for Safewright Quest way more often than I would have believed. I’m sure its a crutch and that its better to just plan on not getting stuck on mana or colours, but I would need a very strong alternative 15 cards to drop it from the Wishboard. Being able to keep a two lander with a Glittering Wish and know you’ll make your third land drop saves mulligans, and it doesn’t hurt to hedge against nuisances like Fulminator Mage that will gladly attack your five-colour manabase.

Void is not Engineered Explosives. The few times I thought I wanted Void I eventually realized it wouldn’t do what I wanted. It would not get rid of Liliana of the Veil, it would not get rid of a pile of Totem Armor auras on a Slippery Bogle, and it would not get rid of Spreading Seas. Without something like Gitaxian Probe or Inquisition of Kozilek its also usually random chance that determines the value of the discard effect.

Xenagos, the Reveler has no obvious explanation. The Wishable planeswalker seemed to be there to grind out wins against control and midrange decks, but I don’t think spamming satyrs is superior to just bringing in a more versatile Ajani Vengeant or more resilient Keranos, God of Storms for those situations.

Mangara of Corondor is too slow. I can see the synergy with Deceiver Exarch and Restoration Angel, but needing it to survive a full turn before it “turns on” is not good enough for a three drop in modern. Note that it’s legendary so Kiki-Jiki can’t even copy it for value. This may be a legitimate card for Chord of Calling or Aether Vial decks, but I do not think it belongs in a Bring to Light deck.

The single copies of Glen Elendra Archmage and Acidic Slime had their moments, but with Bring to Light being the marquee card of the deck they never felt like the kind of plays that justified such a convoluted manabase and lack of overall synergy. You need to keep in mind that Scapeshift will let you simply Bring to Light for 36 damage to the dome when evaluating how good tutoring up a 2/2 that counters two spells is. Which is to say, even when these targets are good, they’re not 36 damage to the dome good.

In summary though, I did find that the combination of Bring to Light and Glittering Wish has potential, but that focusing on Kiki-Jiki as the win condition watered the whole thing down. For the deck to carve out its own identity it needs to find synergy between the cards that fix its mana and ramp it into its tutors and the targets of those tutors themselves. I’m plugging away at my own version of the deck and while its coming together reasonably well it’s not really blowing me away yet. I’ll save the details for if/when I solve this whole five-colour tutor puzzle, but as a teaser for other brewmasters out there here is the path I’m on right now:

   

Until next time, here’s hoping Bring to Light is the missing piece of putting Lotus Cobra, Increasing Savagery, and Overrun together in modern!