Last updated on January 14, 2021
MTG is a world rich with lore. A major part of this lore is the mana that flows through the multiverse, passing through the Æther and flowing into the planes via their leylines. All the colors of mana exist in some capacity in nearly all planes in some capacity, some being more plentiful in certain locations than others. Some planes, however, no longer have mana. Feel free to look that bit of lore up for yourself.
I won’t be talking about lore today (although I hope to at some point), but instead about the colors of mana, how they work together, and how you can best utilize them to win the game. Ready? Let’s go!
First, let’s take a look at each color and what each typically represents:
MTG Color Combinations
With all of Magic’s colors, any combination of cards can be effective in a game of Magic. The sky’s the limit, really. Colorless is a bit of an outlier since it can technically go with anything, not counting Commander’s rules.
But that’s enough of that. Let’s get into all the different color combos in MTG!
Two-Color (Guild) Combinations
In my section on colors above, I talked about how each color represents something different when it comes to the characteristics of the world that the set exists in. Its characters, creatures, and other set pieces all gain meaning and design from these characteristics. The fun really starts when we start playing with the connections and areas between the colors, and how a characteristic can have very different meanings depending on the context and goal of the character in the lore.
Leaving lore out of this, though, the main thing to note is that, while mechanics have their homes in the specific colors, they can (and almost always are) shared, or can be borrowed by the other colors when it suits their purposes. Or, better yet, when a mechanic seems to focus on something that several colors could enjoy.
Let’s look at these dual color combinations and see how they play out.
Azorius Guildgate | Illustration by Titus Lunter
The white/blue guild from Ravnica, Azorius Senate was first introduced in Dissension and featured in Return to Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. From a characterization standpoint, these two colors make a lot of sense together. Mark Rosewater summed it up very well back in 2006, saying:
“Philosophically, the largest overlap between the two colors stems from a similar motivation. Both colors want to improve the world. White does this in its quest to promote peace, while Blue does it out of its interest in reaching perfection. The end result is the same. Both colors like to force its rules and ways upon all those around them.”Mark Rosewater
Azorius decks are primarily built around evasion and prevention while making sure your creatures swing in as much as possible.
- Primary mechanics: flying, detain (think Pacifism and Arrest), addendum
- Main races: Birds, Griffins, Sphinx, Spirits, Vedalken, Humans
- Main classes: Knights, Soldiers, Advisors, Wizards
Dimir Guildgate | Illustration by Cliff Childs
The blue/black guild from Ravnica, House Dimir was first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds and featured in Return to Ravnica, Guilds of Ravnica, and War of the Spark. Dimir is all about secrecy, manipulation, and counterintelligence.
A good Dimir deck will see a lot of control, destruction, and trickery to allow for evasion or, ideally, making your opponent’s deck work against them.
- Primary mechanics: deathtouch, mill, mimicry, surveil
- Main races: Faeries, Drakes, Horrors, Specters, Spirits, Vampires, Zombies
- Main classes: Rogues, Wizards (particularly Necromancers), Assassins
Rakdos Guildgate | Illustration by Eytan Zana
The red/black guild from Ravnica, Cult of Rakdos was first introduced in Dissension, and featured in Return to Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. Rakdos is the logical extension of the red and black characteristics of destruction and self-indulgence. They revolve around the destruction of everything including themselves and love doing it.
Rakdos decks tend to focus on a lot of burn, destruction of everything (except notably enchantments), and sacrifice triggers to benefit themselves or the main wincon.
- Primary mechanics: deathtouch, spectacle
- Main races: Demons, Devils, Elementals, Nightmares, Horrors, Ogres, Thrulls
- Main classes: Berserkers, Warriors, Shamans
Gruul Guildgate | Illustration by Alexander Forssberg
The red/green guild from Ravnica, Gruul Clans were first introduced in Guildpact, and featured in Gatecrash, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. Gruul’s main influence comes from the green’s wishes of harmony and coexistence paired with red’s love of freedom and aggression. The Gruul Clans were a mishmash of separate clans that lived in the wilds of Ravnica whose main focus was to make sure that civilization didn’t overtake nature. When the other clans eventually came to overrun the plane, the Gruul Clans lost any form of leadership and began to cause chaos in civilized areas for any reason at all.
Gruul decks focus on smaller support creatures and larger creatures with destructive effects.
- Primary mechanic: riot
- Main races: Goblins, Ogres, Hydras, Cyclops, Beasts, Trolls
- Main classes: Shamans, Warriors, Berserkers
Selesnya Guildgate | Illustration by Dimitar Marinski
The the green/white guild from Ravnica, Selesnya Conclave was first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds, and featured in Return to Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. Much like the Gruul Clans, the Selesnya Conclave strived for harmony between civilization and nature. However, where the Gruul worked toward this by reacting to events, the Selesnya focused on preventing events in the first place. A lot of their presence was felt in terms of control and order instead of wanton destruction. They were like the policemen of Ravnica.
Selesnya decks focus on laying the groundwork that benefits their side of the battlefield early whether through board-affecting enchantments or targeted auras to pump their creatures or hinder their opponents.
- Primary mechanics: populate, convoke, tokens
- Main races: Pegasus’, Centaurs, Dryads, Loxodons, Humans, Wolves, Elves, Elementals
- Main classes: Knights, Archers, Druids, Shamans, Clerics
Orzhov Guildgate | Illustration by Cliff Childs
The white/black guild of Ravnica, Orzhov Syndicate was first introduced in Guildpact, and featured in Gatecrash, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. Orzhov is the guild of business, borrowing the characteristic of order and comradery from white with the selfish self-determination and want of power from black. Wealth is power to the Orzhov, so they drive to own and control as much as possible using their influence and money be it through shrewd business, cutthroat politics, or compelling the populous through religion.
Orzhov decks focus on using every resource at your disposal to accomplish your wincon. This includes allowing or even pursuing the death of your own creatures and the loss of your life total to push towards victory.
- Primary mechanics: lifelink, afterlife, taxing
- Main races: Angels, Vampires, Spirits, Humans
- Main classes: Advisors, Clerics, Wizards
Izzet Guildgate | Illustration by Kirsten Zirngibl
The blue/red guild of Ravnica, Izzet League was first introduced in Guildpact, and was featured in Return to Ravnica, Guilds of Ravnica, and War of the Spark. Lore-wise, Izzet is both weird and interesting, which I think would make them happy to hear. They’re obsessive, observant, and gifted intellectuals, albeit with the attention spans of a goldfish. They would rush into magical experiments without any thought other than it might work, or at least look awesome! They’re equivalently humans from Star Trek.
They were put in charge of the civics works in Ravnica (e.g., water and heating systems, sewers, etc.) because of their “talents.” Their nature makes it a bit of a chore to pin them down, both figuratively and literally. They’re a collection of pyrologists, metallurgists, aqualogists, and plasmologists that happen to be willing to work together for the main purpose of “something interesting might happen.”
In terms of Izzet decks, you’ll be focusing on direct synergies between instants/sorceries, enchantments, artifacts, and creatures. Many of these synergies will have immediate effects like with Electrostatic Field, while others feature more “long-term” effects like with Crackling Drake or Beacon Bolt.
- Primary mechanics: overload, jump-start, spell copying (see Beamsplitter Mage)
- Main races: Drakes, Dragons, Goblins, Humans, Elementals, Weirds, Faeries
- Main classes: Wizards. That’s it.
Golgari Guildgate | Illustration by Eytan Zana
The black/green guild from Ravnica, Golgari Swarm was first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds, and featured in Return to Ravnica, Guilds of Ravnica, and War of the Spark. The Golgari are the embodiment of life and death. They’ve got a penchant for destruction and sacrifice, as well as creation and growth. While growth may sometimes come slowly, the ability to create something from the wreckage of another can happen quite suddenly… for a cost.
Golgari decks tend to focus on making big creatures out of little creatures and dredging the graveyard for the perfect beater. Expect of a lot of fetching, tutoring, and reanimation.
- Primary mechanics: dredge, scavenge, undergrowth, deathtouch
- Main races: Beasts, Elementals, Elves, Fungi, Gorgons, Saprolings, Wurms, Oozes, Zombies
- Main classes: Druids, Shamans
Boros Guildgate | Illustration by Titus Lunter
The red/white guild from Ravnica, Boros Legion was first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds, and featured in Gatecrash, Guilds of Ravnica, and War of the Spark. If Selesnya are the police of Ravnica, then Boros is the army, forging the harmony and coexistence amongst its residents through blood and iron. Righteous, zealous, and forthright, the Boros Legion enforces the laws of the Azorius Senate when a simple police force is just not enough.
When playing Boros decks, think aggression. Instead of aggression through speed, though, like with mono-red aggro, focus on aggression through sheer numbers. Boros takes the weenie from white by going wide with creatures but, instead of small ones, is more about enabling you to go wide with larger creatures (biggie? I’ll work on the name).
- Primary mechanics: mentor, tokens, fetching (think Winota, Joiner of Forces)
- Main races: Angels, Goblins, Giants, Griffins, Minotaurs, Rocs, Humans
- Main classes: Soldiers, Knights, Warriors, Berserkers
Simic Guildgate | Illustration by Adam Paquette
The the green/blue guild from Ravnica, Simic Combine was first introduced in Dissension, and featured in Gatecrash, Ravnica Allegiance, and War of the Spark. While the Gruul protected through chaotic aggression and the Selesnya protected through prevention and regulation, the Simic wanted to preserve nature as civilization began to expand outward, especially those that are deemed… incompatible with civilized life. In many cases, this meant capturing nature for study and in others forcing to adapt to its new existence. Basically, if Ravnica had a Doctor Frankenstein, he would be Simic.
Building a Simic deck relies on mana ramp. Lots of mana ramp. This can be done with mana dorks such as Paradise Druid, mana enablers like Arboreal Grazer, or mana tutors such as Cultivate. What do you do with all this mana? Exactly what green and blue are known for: big creatures and disruption.
- Primary mechanics: adapt, mana ramp, card draw
- Main races: Mutants, Elves, Trolls, Faeries, Basilisks, Homunculus, Oozes, Beasts
- Main classes: Wizards, Druids
Three-Color (Shard and Wedge) Combinations
While the 2-color guilds were creations of Ravnica, the 3-color combinations come from Alara (referred to as “shards”) and Tarkir (referred to as “clans”). Alara’s shards were introduced in the Shards of Alara set, and Tarkir’s clans were introduced in the Khans of Tarkir set. Can you guess where they got their names?
Much like the 2-color combinations, these tend to combine the characteristics and mechanics of their component colors in terms of how the cards operates and how they work in the lore.
While the guilds were interesting because of the interpersonal relationships that created them, the shards and clans tend to be kind of bland in my opinion. Plus, we’ve already gone on long enough.
Unlike the guilds, the shards have primary and secondary colors which are used not only as determining factors in terms of what characteristics they hold, but also let you know which colors will be used the most and what mechanics will be their primary drivers.
For the shards, the worlds that these combinations come from flat out do not have the other two colors, so no influence occurs.
For the clans, they have purposefully pushed away any influence from the other two colors. The primary color or “focus” is where most of the main mechanics will come from, but the clans tend to share between the focus and secondary colors a lot more than the shards do.
Bant Panorama | Illustration by Donato Giancola
Bant is a primarily white-aligned shard with green and blue as secondary colors. The realm is one of noble engines and a caste system with the Blessed looking down on the Unbeholden.
In terms of playing Bant, you’re going to be playing it very much like a mono-white deck while borrowing the positives of Selesnya and Azorius. Lots of enchantments both granting abilities like flying, trample, and growth as well as stopping your opponents from doing much of anything on the battlefield.
Esper Panorama | Illustration by Franz Vohwinkel
Esper is a primarily blue-aligned shard with white and black as secondary colors. The realm is one where control and purpose are overvalued and savagery is tamped down. Artificers, particular the Vedalken, have created machines mimicking the manner of animals, from birds to drakes to sphinxes, to protect the plane.
Playing Esper is going to closely resemble playing Dimir, except you’ll be borrowing the control elements that they’re missing from white and adding color-oriented artifacts. Lots of interaction and disruption allowing you to attack or mill unabated.
Grixis Panorama | Illustration by Nils Hamm
Grixis is a primarily black-aligned shard with red and blue as secondary colors. The realm is basically what one would like the biblical version of Hell to look like. Death, your pick of the seven deadly sins, and the undead abound. Necromancers search out ogre and human encampments to take slaves and harvest their Vis, the magic-like life source of power on the plane.
Playing Grixis is interesting because it feels like an even split of playing mono-black with a bit of Rakdos and blue control, or like playing Dimir and Rakdos together. A lot of creatures with ETB and death triggers, enchantments to tax your opponent’s actions, and destruction/burn abounds. As long as you’re destroying creatures (your opponents or your own) to your benefit, you’re playing Grixis right.
Jund Panorama | Illustration by Jaime Jones
Jund is a primarily red-aligned shard with black and green as secondary colors. The realm is a mixture of active volcanoes, rocky mountain peaks, and vibrant jungles. Jund is very wild and free, an eat-or-be-eaten plane with a vast food chain. Humans and Viashino rule the ground and dragons dominate the skies.
Playing Jund is the best of both worlds in terms of playing the game, in my opinion (and I don’t say that as a primarily Jund player). You can easily start with the fast aggro of red plus the destruction-oriented control of black and the ramp potential of green. Or the destructive and sacrificial drive of Rakdos with the growth potential of green. Jund is also a wonderful source of jank combos if you’re willing to look for them. I’m looking at you Dreadhorde Butcher, Colossification, and Mutual Destruction.
Naya Panorama | Illustration by Hideaki Takamura
Naya is a primarily green-aligned shard with red and white as secondary colors. The realm is a vast rainforest, brimming with the most lifeforms out of any of Alara’s planes. It’s the home of humans, elves, Leonin, and minotaur races. It’s a paradise, but it comes with a dangerous price: behemoths roam the land, indiscriminately crushing anything and everything in their paths.
Playing Naya is very much like playing mono-green on steroids. You’ll be looking for smaller creatures mainly to hold the line and enable your larger creatures to hit the field, preferably earlier than they probably should. Since you’ll be using larger creatures, look for synergies that look at the CMC or power of your creatures for tutoring or growth purposes.
Abzan Banner | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Abzan House has the color wedges of white (focus), black, and green, who admire the ancient dragons’ aspect of endurance.
A lot of Abzan is going to revolve around trying to keep your permanents on the battlefield. A lot of bolstering them with outlast or bolster, a fair bit of reanimation to bring them back should they fall, and lifelink to keep you in the game.
Jeskai Banner | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Jeskai Way has the color wedges of blue (focus), red, and white, who admire the ancient dragons’ aspect of cunning.
Although Jeskai’s focus is blue, it borrows a lot from the white side of things with its main mechanics. The synergies here are going to lie with cards that grow the more things enter the battlefield, specifically with keywords like prowess, enabling this via quite a bit of card draw. Basically, get your stuff on the battlefield and protect them with blue counterspells to disrupt and red burn spells to clear a path.
Sultai Banner | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Sultai Brood has color wedges of black (focus), green, and blue, who admire the ancient dragons’ aspect of ruthlessness.
Sultai is a necromancer dreamscape. Take the reanimation of Golgari, mix in the self-mill and card draw of Dimir, a dash of Izzet to get things out of hand and somewhere useful, some snails for flavor, and you have the making of a good Sultai deck. Bonus points if the big boys you get in-hand have delve to help cast them. You always end up with chaff you can’t use in your graveyard anyway.
Mardu Banner | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Mardu Horde has color wedges of red (focus), white, and black, who admire the ancient dragons’ aspect of speed.
When I say they admire speed, I’m not kidding. You want to play Mardu fast and hard. I have always seen it as a conglomeration of the best of mono-red, white, and black. Red for getting things out fast, white for the cheap price, and black for the less-than-fun keywords. Less-than-fun for your opponent, that is. Partnered with their raid and dash keywords, you can finish your opponent before they have much to work with if you do it right.
Temur Banner | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Temur Frontier has the color wedges of green (focus), red, and blue, who admire the ancient dragons’ aspect of savagery.
Remember when I talked about big creatures mattering in Naya? Make it double for Temur. Lots of big creatures making smaller creatures, and smaller creatures making bigger creatures. Add the big creatures to some Izzet spell-copying shenanigans and you can have some fun. Once again, there will be a lot of creature growth or other benefits with the keyword ferocious. Also, with the benefit of blue in the wedge, you’ll have a fair bit of card draw and tutoring to help you find what you might need.
Other Combo Names
Each of the Tarkir clans also go by other names, but are often called by either the Tarkir or Ikoria clan/Triome names. There are also some others that aren’t used as often. Take a look:
All of the 4-color combos come from the Nephilim creature type introduced in Guildpact. Only five were created, mainly to help those who wanted to play with more than the 2-color guilds. Lore-wise, they were Old Gods (monsters with very limited intelligence) who were the symbols of Ravnica well before the time of the Guildpact. They were the main antagonists (if you can call something whose main drive is to mindlessly feed an antagonistic quality) of the storyline of the set.
While the Nephilim themselves didn’t get much play, they at the very least allowed us names for these combinations. Sadly, there really isn’t much to say about these color combos in general. Their main purpose is to allow you the freedom to build in any of the colors, while still having some level of restriction since one of the colors is left out. Here are the combos along with the Nephilim they get their name from:
Only one combination here, since there are only five colors in MTG. You can’t add what doesn’t exist. I am consciously ignoring pink.
WUBRG gets its name from the shorthand for the colors. There sadly is no mythical beast called the Whoo-Burg, although it definitely sounds like something for an Un-set.
While you would think that playing a deck like this would be amazing, freeing, make you wonder why no one else does this, you’re only partially correct. Yes, having access to all colors does allow you to play pretty much anything you want, but think about it for just a couple more seconds. In order to play a card that costs you would need 4 mana total, one of which must be green and one of which must be black. You have 60 cards in your deck with somewhere around 22 to 26 lands of all five colors. The likelihood of you having the mana you need exactly as you need it would be rare.
Playing a deck like this requires strategy. You’ll need to mana-fix a lot, have several additional sources of mana beyond your lands (such as mana rocks and mana dorks), and hope that you’re able to get the mana needed to even play those.
Chances are, if you’re playing a 5-color deck, you’re either very aware of the costs and are working around them or are gearing toward a single big combo that you’re hoping will go off. Could be a fun jank deck, but it’s not reliable enough for anything serious. Commander is another story if that’s your shtick, since color identity opens up a whole different world of possibilities there and you have a ton of mana fixing options.
Eldrazi Horror | Illustration by Jason Felix
Yep, you can have an entire deck that does not care what color mana you use or, for added difficulty, you can have a deck that uses colorless mana. Colorless decks tend to be artifact-only decks, ones that use a lot of Phyrexian mana, pay the color cost of pay with 2 life per pip, or everyone’s favorite Eldritch horrors, the Eldrazi. If you go this route, I would suggest saving on the dual or tri-lands unless they have an additional added bonus (like shocklands or scry-lands) or investing in some Wastes since you’ll need the colorless kind.
Why Color Combos Matter (Sometimes)
The good thing about color combos is you can do with this info whatever you want, really. Technically speaking, all of the combos are viable ways to play Magic, but you’ll definitely find better success with some over others.
- The more mana colors you include, the more possibility that you’ll be hoping for a mana color that you don’t have yet. This can even happen in 2-color decks.
- While dual- and tri-lands do exist, they can’t be as plentiful as basic lands.
- Tutoring, while a thing, isn’t available in all colors, and can take up a place in your decks that other cards could better utilize.
Another thing to keep in mind is the format you’re playing. A lot of the 3-color decks worked wonderfully in their respective sets and meta-games, but their mileage may vary outside of them. For example, Temur, Rakdos, Bant, Jeskai, Jund, and mono-red are leading the current Standard meta-game. While the other combos are still technically viable (remember, there is no “wrong” way to play Magic), the synergies and quality of cards aren’t there to make them playable at the competitive level.
The best suggestion I can make is if you’re worried about being competitive, look up what’s working in the pro-circuit. If you aren’t looking to be at that caliber, then use other resources that specialize in the format that you’re playing in and look for decks that look fun to play!
Commencement of Festivities | Illustration by Zack Stella
The Best Combo for YOU
Which color combination should you play? That completely depends on your personality and play style.
If you’re someone who enjoys sitting down and playing mostly with your own toys, then mono-red, mono-green, Boros, Golgari, or any combinations that are mostly red or green will most likely be your style.
If you want to make sure you get to beat face unimpeded, look at mono-white, mono-blue, Azorius, or Selesnya.
Want to ruin everyone else’s fun? Look at mono-blue, mono-black, Dimir, or Esper.
What I’m getting at is that there is always a way to play the game that will make it the most fun for you specifically. Just don’t be surprised if your brand of fun and someone else’s don’t play well together.
Refuse // Cooperate | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
THE Best Color Combo
Objectively, the “best” color combo period would be hard to define, since every set tends to change things enough to make each combo take their turn in the spotlight. I will say that in terms of popularity, 2-color and 3-color tend to be the combos that get the most play.
Ultimately, the best color combination is going to depend on what specific criteria you’re looking for. For example, if you want to get a ton of life and use it for something other than just surviving, you’re looking at Orzhov.
Better Than One | Illustration by Alex Konstad
Whew. Glad this was typed and not spoken. I’m pretty sure I’ve been in lectures that would have taken less time. I hope you found this informative or at least that I’ve piqued your interest into trying some other color combos. If you’re a newer player, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide and grab our app Arena Tutor.
Have you spotted something our list is missing? Do you have a question about how to better use the combos or some that you feel are underused in the current meta? Feel free to leave a comment below, or join us on our Discord server for a chat!
Leave in the Dust | Illustration by Vincent Proce