Last updated on July 22, 2023
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 quite a bit, but I'm 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.”
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.
Good Mythical Morning
The List of 5-Color Commanders
Morophon, the Boundless | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
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.
Technically this gallery wouldn't be complete without Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, but it's banned in Commander so make sure you don't accidentally build an entire deck around it only to realize that it isn't legal in the format.
Here are all the 5-color commanders:
- Child of Alara
- Codie, Vociferous Codex
- Esika, God of the Tree / The Prismatic Bridge
- Garth One-Eye
- Go-Shintai of Life's Origin
- General Tazri
- Horde of Notions
- Jared Carthalion
- Jegantha, the Wellspring
- Jenson Carthalion, Druid Exile
- Jodah, Archmage Eternal
- Jodah, the Unifier
- Karona, False God
- Kenrith, the Returned King
- Kyodai, Soul of Kamigawa
- Morophon, the Boundless
- Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
- Niv-Mizzet Reborn
- Niv-Mizzet, Supreme
- Omnath, Locus of All
- O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami
- Ramos, Dragon Engine
- Reaper King
- Scion of the Ur-Dragon
- Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
- Sliver Gravemother
- Sliver Hivelord
- Sliver Legion
- Sliver Overlord
- Sliver Queen
- Tazri, Beacon of Unity
- Tazri, Stalwart Survivor
- The First Sliver
- The Ur-Dragon
- Tom Bombadil
- Urtet, Remnant of Memnarch
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.”
It's no surprise that cards like Kenrith end up being the lead player in the top tier decks in Commander.
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?
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.
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.
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
Update post-March of the Machine by Pedro
#12. The First Sliver
The First Sliver has cascade, and all slivers spells you cast also have cascade. No matter what happens, you’re bound to have a bunch of slivers in play.
Tribal decks are usually good at buffing creatures from the same tribe but don’t have much card advantage going on. The challenge is to include slivers from various colors and mana costs to maximize the efficiency of cascade.
#11. Morophon, the Boundless
Morophon, the Boundless is a generic tribal commander, so you can build any tribal deck with it as a leader. Humans, vampires, soldiers, you choose. EDH players love to get fancy with tribal decks that aren't officially supported by existing lords, and this commander doesn’t care about the tribe or the colors involved.
Morophon provides creature cost reduction and fixing, so a good strategy is to include color-intensive cards like Mantis Rider (free with Morophon) or Reflector Mage in a human tribal deck to obtain a better mana discount.
#10. Urtet, Remnant of Memnarch
Urtet, Remnant of Memnarch is a nice 5-color Myr-themed commander. It’s only three mana to cast, and you don’t need crazy 5-color fixing to start. You can build an Urtet deck in a myriad of ways, including artifacts (affinity, metalcraft), tokens, proliferate, or ramp.
Each Myr you have that produces mana can produce mana twice in the same turn, so that allows for a lot of mana producing and color fixing. It gets better the more meaningful mana sinks you have.
#9. Omnath, Locus of All
The best thing Omnath, Locus of All brings to the table is that it gives you an extra card each turn, and three extra mana depending on what you draw.
This commander incentivizes you to play cards that have three or more mana symbols, whether they’re different symbols like Thalia and The Gitrog Monster or the same color like in Nyxbloom Ancient or Phyrexian Obliterator. Common Omnath builds include multicolor matters, 5-color good stuff, or a devotion route with black devotion a particular good choice.
No matter what route you choose, it’s hard to go wrong with drawing extra cards and generating extra mana each turn.
#8. Esika, God of the Tree / The Prismatic Bridge
I’ll focus on The Prismatic Bridge, which is the reason why this is a 5-color commander. When you have The Prismatic Bridge in play, you’ll cheat a creature or planeswalker into play from your library each turn. Enchantments are harder to kill than creatures, so you don’t need to worry as much about losing your commander before untapping and getting value from it.
Most builds focus on a superfriends deck that aims to put a planeswalker into play each turn and snowball from there. Another interesting build is a god-tribal one. Play a bunch of god creatures, tutor for The World Tree, sacrifice it, and put any number of god cards into play.
#7. Ramos, Dragon Engine
Ramos, Dragon Engine is a commander that wants as many multicolored spells as possible, ideally ones that cost 3-5 different colors of mana. You can grow your commander quickly and have a flying, beating machine.
Cards that care about multicolor cards are at home in this deck. Casting those multicolor spells hurts your mana though, so prepare to play lots and lots of nonbasic lands, tri lands, Chromatic Lantern, and the like. If you take five counters away from Ramos, you can even kill someone via Door to Nothingness thanks to the amount of mana generated by the commander.
#6. Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Jodah, Archmage Eternal offers you the possibility of paying for all your other spells, which is basically the effect of Fist of Suns. Not only are you playing 5-color good stuff, but you’re also playing 5-color expensive stuff!
Jokes aside, you’ll want your spells to be big and meaningful, like Apex Devastator or Omniscience. Your opponents will try to take your commander down whenever they can, so getting to untap with Jodah, Archmage Eternal and keeping it on the battlefield require protective countermagic or some ways to give it hexproof.
#5. Kenrith, the Returned King
Kenrith, the Returned King is a nice mana sink that serves as a jack-of-all-trades for combo purposes. You can pay some amount of mana to gain life, draw cards, put +1/+1 counters on creatures, reanimate, and so on.
One interesting way to build Kenrith is to reduce the cost of its mana abilities by playing cards like Training Grounds or Zirda, the Dawnwaker and to untap your mana via Wilderness Reclamation to use it on your opponents’ turns.
Casual builds use this to obtain more resources as the game goes on, while more competitive builds enjoy playing combos that produce infinite mana to win.
#4. Jodah, the Unifier
Jodah, the Unifier is a legends matter commander that wants you to have as many legends as possible. It gives legendary creatures a big buff, but it’s also giving the legendary spells a cascade effect.
Here’s the power of Jodah: cast a legendary spell with a mana value of 5, and cascade into maybe a 3-mana legendary spell. You’re almost always getting free value from your spells.
Decks built around Jodah need to protect their commander at all costs because the risk of losing the commander in the middle of combat can be devastating if you’re counting on the buff it provides.
#3. Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is a warrior tribal deck usually built to be very aggressive. Warrior cards are present in all colors, but mainly in Boros () colors. You’ll want a deck that frequently attacks with warriors and that goes wide with many creatures and anthem effects. One Najeela’s activation seals the deal if you have a strong enough board.
In Najeela, you have a cheap red commander that can benefit you as early as turn three if you’re attacking early with warriors. You don’t even need to use all five colors of mana!
#2. Go-Shintai of Life's Origin
Go-Shintai of Life's Origin wants you to have a “shrine tribal” build, and for that purpose you can play every known shrine printed in sets like Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and original Kamigawa. Shrines add to each other like slivers.
Eventually, you reach a critical mass of shrines that give you a massive resource advantage to win, be it making everyone discard lots of cards with Honden of Night's Reach or milling opponents with Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom. You don’t even need to play shrines. As long as you’re playing enchantments, you’re playing to the strengths of this commander.
Go-Shintai allows you to reanimate enchantments, so you can go the self-mill route and reanimate Omniscience or another crazy powerful enchantment.
#1. The Ur-Dragon
Here’s dragon-tribal at its finest. Nine mana is a lot to pay for your commander, but thanks to the eminence ability, you’ll always have a mana discount on other dragons you play. That’s the main strength of The Ur-Dragon. The mana discount helps immensely in lowering the mana curve since most dragons are already on the mana expensive side.
The best moment to cast your commander is when you already have dragons in play since you’ll get massive upside by attacking with them. A single dragon attacking already benefits you and triggers your commander.
A Couple Solid 5-Color Commander Decks
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Birds of Paradise
Chulane, Teller of Tales
Djeru and Hazoret
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Esika, God of the Tree
Esior, Wardwing Familiar
Ghalta and Mavren
Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea
Hajar, Loyal Bodyguard
Jared Carthalion, True Heir
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Jodah, the Unifier
Jori En, Ruin Diver
Kethis, the Hidden Hand
Marchesa, the Black Rose
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Ramos, Dragon Engine
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
Ratadrabik of Urborg
Reki, the History of Kamigawa
Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh
Rona, Herald of Invasion
Shanid, Sleepers' Scourge
Sigarda, Font of Blessings
Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
Skrelv, Defector Mite
Sygg, River Cutthroat
The Peregrine Dynamo
Vega, the Watcher
Caves of Koilos
Field of the Dead
Path of Ancestry
Birds of Paradise
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Eidolon of Blossoms
Go-Shintai of Ancient Wars
Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor
Go-Shintai of Hidden Cruelty
Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom
Go-Shintai of Shared Purpose
Herald of the Pantheon
Sythis, Harvest's Hand
Tameshi, Reality Architect
Zur the Enchanter
Zur, Eternal Schemer
Aura of Silence
Honden of Cleansing Fire
Honden of Infinite Rage
Honden of Life's Web
Honden of Night's Reach
Honden of Seeing Winds
Sanctum of All
Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest
Sanctum of Shattered Heights
Sanctum of Stone Fangs
Sanctum of Tranquil Light
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Sphere of Safety
Plaza of Heroes
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Ziatora's Proving Ground
Yet Another Commanding Conclusion
The Ur-Dragon | Illustration by Jaime Jones
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.
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!
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