Last updated on February 1, 2021
Progenitus | Illustration by Jaime Jones
We’ve talked about pretty much every MTG format there is here on Draftsim, but recently I came across a discussion that’s been going on for a while. Commander is something we’ve touched on in quite a few articles, but we’re going to go a bit deeper today.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Commander format, it’s one of the most popular ways to play MTG, and the predecessor to MTGA’s Brawl. As the name suggests, you pick a legendary creature to act as your Commander and to lead you. The colors of your chosen commander become your “color identity.”
Morophon, the Boundless | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
You must construct your deck within the limits of your color identity, which is one of the key features of Commander. Your commander’s color identity includes both their mana cost and the mana cost for any of their abilities. Since you need to have exactly 100 cards in your deck and there are only 76 banned cards (while Commander’s card pool includes almost all official sets), this kind of limitation is what makes the game more tactical.
As you can imagine, though, there are some potential commanders that offer you all the colors. Let’s talk about that.
The List of Five Color Commanders
There are some commanders out there that “break” the color identity rule, in a sense. These are called “5-color commanders,” since they have a color identity which includes all five of MTG’s colors.
This means that every card that’s legal in Commander follows your commander’s color identity and can be used in your deck. Some players argue that this is a cool thing, while others say that even though it’s within the rules, having access to all colors is against the spirit of the format.
Wherever you fall in the argument, these are the cards that are responsible for the discussion:
And here’s the list of all the five color commanders:
- Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
- The Ur-Dragon
- Jodah, Archmage Eternal
- Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
- Kenrith, the Returned King
- Morophon, the Boundless
- Ramos, Dragon Engine
- Sliver Overlord
- Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
- Niv-Mizzet Reborn
- Reaper King
- General Tazri
- The First Sliver
- Scion of the Ur-Dragon
- Child of Alara
- Horde of Notions
- Karona, False God
- O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami
- Sliver Hivelord
- Sliver Queen
- Sliver Legion
- Jegantha, the Wellspring
The Root of the Problem
Now that we know what cards are causing all the ruckus, let’s dig deeper. The reason why Commander is the most popular MTG format is because it provides so much freedom to construct your decks while making sure that things don’t turn into complete chaos. You can’t have multiple cards with the same name, only specific cards can be commanders, and you need to build your deck with exactly 100 cards (101 with a companion).
Despite these restrictions, you can choose from any set you want and combine pretty much anything in your deck. Limiting your colors is actually a good challenge. You need to use your wits and make sure that those 100 cards work well with each other to win the game. When there’s a 5-color commander in play though, there’s a good chance that the deck ends up being what’s called “5-color good stuff.”
O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami | Illustration by Daarken
The reason behind this name is simple: if you have a collection with a lot of high rarity, high value cards, you just cram every single great card you have into the deck after choosing a 5-color commander. Of course, MTG isn’t a game that can be won by brute force alone, but with Commander, the difference between collections usually turns into a great chasm that can’t be overcome. Or so they say…
Now, you probably think I was going to rant about how 5-color commanders are unfair. On the contrary, I’m going to rant about how this isn’t the case and there should, in fact, be more 5-color commanders.
I want to start with this: Yes, there are lots of players who want to cram everything into a single deck, but this is also possible with any deck. Commander decks need to have more synergy and 5-color commanders may not always be the best choice.
When you look at the list, you can see that their mana costs are pretty high, and it’ll only increase each time they die. What are the chances that you’ll be able to cast your 5+ mana cost commander multiple times before your opponent hits you with theirs?
Ramos, Dragon Engine | Illustration by Joseph Meehan
We’re talking about a format where 21 combat damage from a commander in one go ends the game. If you can hold your ground until you have a solid mana base with a good balance of 5 colors, chances are you’d win anyway. Commander games usually last longer than regular games since your starting life is 40, but a dispersed mana base is not easy to pull off.
And sure, having access to more colors is definitely an advantage, but it also means that you’re all over the place. A well-focused deck would synergize much better than a 5-color deck and ramp-up faster. In order for a good-stuff deck to work, you need to be either very lucky or have a tremendously good collection of good stuff. But, if you already have such a collection, this also means you can put the good stuff in a 2-, 3-, or 4-color deck that would probably work much better anyway. We all hate only-good-stuff players, but there certainly is a trade-off for 5-color decks.
Reaper King | Illustration by Jim Murray
I can understand why many players dislike 5-color commanders. If you look around the internet for a while, you can see a lot of people voicing their annoyance with 5-color decks.
As far as I can see, the problem here is the use of good stuff. I admit, there are a lot of people who just want to annoy the hell out of their opponents such as the gentleman mentioned here, but as you can see, he also managed to keep annoying his opponents with Gaddock Teeg. In this case, you should hate the player, not the game.
Gaddock Teeg | Illustration by Greg Staples
Avoiding this kind of non-fair play may be possible by introducing house rules. MTG already has its own set of rules, of course, but there are a lot of communities out there that play with their own. For example, some allow planeswalkers as commanders and there are some who frown upon those who play only good-stuff decks. You could also simply ban 5-color commanders. Keep in mind, though, that there aren’t any 5-color commanders banned by WotC since they aren’t considered broken.
The Best 5-Color Commanders
After talking this much about them, it wouldn’t be fair to finish without talking about the best 5-color commanders. These are my favorites, so keep in mind that there might be others that are more useful for you, or even simply better.
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Najeela is by far one of the best aggro commanders out there. Her mana cost is pretty decent, and her ability is simply terrifying. Work some protection against board-wipes into your deck and she’ll win you the game more often than not.
If you like building around dragon-themed decks, you have a lot of options in Commander, but The Ur-Dragon is something entirely different. The eminence discount is great if you stick to dragons, and once you take control of the board, it’s very easy to maintain it. This card is featured in Commander 2017’s Draconic Domination deck.
Kenrith, the Returned King
This is the most recent addition to 5-color commanders and a particularly good one. Kenrith has great utility and can respond to almost any of your needs. He doesn’t have any inherent synergies with other creatures and you should have some excess mana for abilities, but this is a monstrous card if you have a way to keep him alive and a solid mana base.
Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Jodah is perhaps the most popular 5-color commander and rightly so. His ability to cast any spell with WUBRG mana allows a player to run a deck with high-mana costs and devastate opponents with epic spells. However, the sad part is, Jodah is also a high-contender for good-stuff decks.
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
An absolute beast, Golos is a ridiculously good commander. His entrance to the battlefield brings along a land card (not a basic land, btw) and his 6-mana ability allows you to play the three cards on top of your library for free. Combined with scry abilities and some luck, Golos can single-handedly win a game, 5-color or not.
A Couple of Solid 5-Color Commander Decks
Atarka, World Render
Bladewing the Risen
Chromium, the Mutable
Dromoka, the Eternal
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
Keiga, the Tide Star
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Lathliss, Dragon Queen
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager Flip
Numot, the Devastator
Ojutai, Soul of Winter
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner
Ramos, Dragon Engine
Ryusei, the Falling Star
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Teneb, the Harvester
Wasitora, Nekoru Queen
Brave the Sands
Gift of Immortality
Journey to Eternity Flip
Cavern of Souls
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Path of Ancestry
Anafenza, the Foremost
Kethis, the Hidden Hand
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
Arvad the Cursed
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Marchesa, the Black Rose
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Tahngarth, First Mate
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage
Pramikon, Sky Rampart – Foil
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Baird, Steward of Argive
Garna, the Bloodflame
Aryel, Knight of Windgrace
Keiga, the Tide Star
Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero
Fblthp, the Lost
Noncreature Spell (3)
Yet Another Commanding Conclusion
Commander should be a format to mix things up. Sure, you can tell me to just play Highlander instead, but having a commander that has all colors and then building around it has a great charm for me. Considering that 5-color decks lack focus and trade synergy for flexibility, I personally don’t think 5-color commanders are a problem.
The Ur-Dragon | Illustration by Jaime Jones
One of the great things about MTG, though, is its community. You can occasionally meet annoying players who just want to win instead of having fun, but this is what makes MTG great; you can make your opponent suffer with pretty much any deck if you want.
What do you think? Do 5-color commanders allow for more flexible games or just guide players towards good-stuff decks? Let us know in the comments below!