Last updated on May 19, 2022
Hoard Robber | Illustrated by Anna Pavleeva
Players tend to brew and draft according to the archetypes defined by WotC whenever a new Limited set comes out. We had Boros () aggro and Izzet () giants with Kaldheim. Strixhaven had signature schools like Silverquill, a.k.a. Orzhov (). Then we got Rakdos () sacrifice and Selesnya () lifegain as the top dogs in Forgotten Realms… you get the idea.
Sometimes you run into bombs outside of the colors you’re playing or you just don’t get the cards you need to make your build work as-is. Maybe you need removal but don’t get any in your colors or they don’t have the removal you need. Or maybe you just got an awkward draft table and ended up with mixed signals.
Whatever the case, playing a card outside of your primary colors is called “splashing,” and it’s a viable option if your 2-color combo just isn’t cutting it. Today I’ll be going over the ins-and-outs of splashing as well as how and when you want to splash for cards.
Let’s get started!
Adult Gold Dragon | Illustrated by Chris Rahn
Your deck will usually be two colors in any Limited format. Adding a third (or fourth, or fifth…) color for one or more cards is what’s called splashing.
The ratio for splashing is usually around one or two cards out of 23 and it’s not limited by a single color. You could be base and splash for one card and for another depending on the scenario or the draft format.
But there are some things to keep in mind when you consider splashing.
Let’s make something clear first. Not all color pairs in each set have the tools to make splashing easy. So let’s cover some conditions you need to meet if you’re thinking of splashing.
As a rule of thumb, try not to splash in aggro decks. Decks like Gruul () from Forgotten Realms have trouble splashing because they don’t have many tools to support it aside from running lands outside their primary colors.
Aggro decks also want to curve out and apply pressure in the early turns. It gets more challenging to grab a win with aggro lists the longer the game goes on.
Orcus, Prince of Undeath | Illustrated by Andrew Mar
Try not to splash cards that you want to play early. Triumphant Adventureris a fine example of this. Adventurer is a bomb by itself when played early, but the issue is that you want just that: to play it early. You won’t always have your splash color available by turn 2 and Adventurer gets less relevant the longer the game goes on.
In contrast, Krydle of Baldur’s Gate is a cheap card that’s great to splash. Its effect enables attacks at any point in the game and it doesn’t need to be played early to be powerful. Krydle gets better as the game goes on since board stalls usually build up when you’re playing against certain archetypes, and making your guys unblockable is an excellent path to victory.
There’s a fine line between cards that are cheap in terms of mana value and cards you want to play early. It’s important to figure out where a card falls when you consider splashing.
You should generally splash cards that cover your deck’s weaknesses or provide a lot of value.
An excellent example of this is removal spells. Your chosen color pair might be very low on good removal or you just get unlucky over the course of the draft and don’t get to pick any up. You can typically afford to splash this kind of card, at least in midrange decks. Removal is often essential in Limited since nullifying your opponent’s strongest cards and synergies is a clear path to victory.
Big creatures and bombs are two more examples of cards you may want to splash. These cards can usually shift the course of the game when they’re played.
Drizzt Do’Urden | Illustrated by Tyler Jacobson
There are two scenarios you could find yourself in as you go through a draft and it’s critical to keep splashing in mind for both.
The first is at the beginning of the draft. You need to decide if you’re committing to a particular color pair from the start or staying open. Let’s say you opened a very good card like Orcus, Prince of Undeath in pack 1 pick 1. Do you lean towards Rakdos, or keep yourself open to splash?
If you choose to stay open, prioritize cards that share a color with your bomb and also help you cast it. Cards that provide color fixing like Plundering Barbarian and Improvised Weaponry would be great in this case. You could still end up in Izzet or Boros and easily splash your bomb thanks to these cards, even if black isn’t open.
The second scenario comes later in the draft when you open a powerful card outside your colors. Let’s say that you’re in Boros and open Orcus, Prince of Undeath. You now need to prioritize fixing over card quality.
What if you open a Mind Flayer in pack 3 but you’ve been Selesnya the whole time? Should you try to splash it?
The answer is usually “no,” unless you already drafted cards that enable this splash. Splashing cards with one off-color mana symbol is fine, but splashing cards with multiple off-color symbols is much harder. You’ll need many more sources to cast them consistently.
But this isn’t the case with all sets. Some Limited formats have more tools to splash this kind of card, like dual lands or Treasures. But you usually shouldn’t ignore colored mana requirements.
As I mentioned earlier, removal is a perfect example of good cards to splash. Make sure that you’re also keeping mana restrictions in mind, though. Some removal isn’t very good to splash with, even if it’s powerful.
Explosive Welcome, on the other hand, is a perfect card to splash in Simic () decks since it’s not mana restrictive and easily fits the general gameplan. Plus, that color combination often has easier access to color fixing.
I also already covered that bombs are good to splash. Nadaar, Selfless Paladin is a fantastic splash since it’s a powerhouse by itself and only requires one . This is an example of a card that’s great on-curve, but is still so efficient that it’s good at any point in the game.
Big creatures are also good splash targets. The first one that comes to mind is Bookwurm since it only needs one . It’s a big boy that can stabilize board states and turn games around in your favor.
As you may have realized by now, it gets easier to play splashed cards the longer a game goes on. You should consider splashing good cards if you’re building a deck that wants to go wide and prioritizes card quality to end games.
You can use fixing cards in your deck to build a smoother mana base. Dual lands are an excellent example of mana fixers. These usually enter the battlefield tapped and can generate two types of mana. Fetch lands like Terramorphic Expanse are another example, which let you search for the mana you need and put it on the battlefield.
Some sets also have ramp spells that you can use to search your library for land cards and put them on the battlefield. Remember that you only want to run these if the spell is in your primary colors.
There are quite a few other kinds of mana fixers, but here are the most common:
- Midnight Hunt: The Celestus, Evolving Wilds, Path to the Festival, Mystic Skull.
- Forgotten Realms: Treasures, Evolving Wilds, Temple of the Dragon Queen.
- Strixhaven: Environmental Sciences, scry lands.
- Kaldheim: Dual lands, Horizon Seeker, Svella, Ice Shaper, Spirit of the Aldergard, Path to the World Tree.
These are the kind of cards you want around when you’re looking to splash or play more than one color. Playing cards outside of your main colors is almost impossible without some kind of fixing.
Path to the World Tree | Illustrated by Daniel Ljunggren
You generally want to have at least three sources of your splash color in your deck. The number increases the more cards you splash.
With one or two splashed cards, three sources of mana should be enough. You should strongly consider a fourth source with three. More than four cards outside of your primary colors and you’re not splashing anymore, you’re just playing a 3-color deck.
This build only runs one Plains for splashing Drizzt Do’Urden. There’s also three cards that create Treasures plus Intrepid Outlander which can eventually venture into a Treasure if needed. This list would end up playing two or three Plains without the extra fixing; it’s all about balance.
Shambling Ghast x2
Battle Cry Goblin
Hobgoblin Captain x2
Aberrant Mind Sorcerer
Minion of the Mighty
Krydle of Baldur’s Gate
Check for Traps
You See a Guard Approach
You Come to a River
You Come to the Gnoll Camp
Bar the Gate x2
You Find the Villains’ Lair
Contact Other Plane
Eyes of the Beholder
This deck doesn’t run any natural fixing as far as lands go, but it has multiple Treasure-makers that can help cast a 5-drop. This means it doesn’t need Treasure in the game’s early stages. So, no Island.
This is another deck with no lands to support the splash despite running two splashed cards. Dragon’s Fire is here to help you stay alive against aggro decks and Krydle of Baldur’s Gate helps in the late game.
The secret to this build is the excessive number of Treasure-makers that work as pseudo-mana fixers.
This was mainly a mono black deck without a defined second color. It does have three of the most powerful bombs in the set, though. This is an excellent example of how splashing should be done!
The only way to splash three or more cards is by running a basically mono colored deck otherwise. I wouldn’t recommend it for dual color decks.
Let’s discuss a few specific cards so you can get an idea how I think about them in this deck.
Orcus, Prince of Undeath
Ranger Class seems like it only needs one at first glance, but you’re going to want multiples to maximize its potential. At least two green sources to get this Class to reach level three is ideal.
Mind Flayer requires two to cast. Four Islands is reasonable for this splash. Remember, this is in addition to all the treasures I have in the deck.
Temur Ascendancy | Illustrated by Jaime Jones
Remember when I mentioned that playing four or more cards outside of your colors isn’t splashing anymore? This usually happens when cards are good regardless of the turn they’re played and synergize well with your deck.
Sets like Ikoria and Strixhaven are pretty good at enabling 3-plus-color decks because they have mana bases that support it with a combination of lands and other mana fixers. These multicolored decks tend to be slower than the rest and overtake them in the long run.
Strixhaven Temur Deck
The Simic deck plays potent removal spells in red plus Rootha, Mercurial Artist to copy any other non-creature spells. You need at least four mana sources to help cast red since it’s pretty dominant, but you have about six more learn spells that can act as pseudo-mana fixers since they can tutor Environmental Sciences.
Most of your 3-color decks will look like this. Each set has its particular way to fix its mana so make sure you take a look at these cards and can spot them when you’re drafting.
There are a couple things that influence the number of sources you run, but the primary one is mana value. Cards with higher mana values means you can run less lands for the splashed color because you can expect to draw them by the time you can play the card anyway.
I don’t like adding more than three natural sources of my splash color. Too many splash sources can lead to problems like needing to mulligan more aggressively or getting worse at casting cards in your primary colors. So how do you get the splash colors without messing with your mana base too much?
One option is to run multiple cantrips, card draw effects, or cards that look at the top X cards from your library put one into your hand. The more cards you look at, the closer you get to playing your splash cards. Make sure to keep this in mind if you’re playing more than two colors.
Always remember that each set has its way of fixing. For Forgotten Realms, we got Treasures. Strixhaven had Environmental Sciences, ramp spells, and cantrips. Snow duals were the highlight in Kaldheim.
The Ur-Dragon | Illustrated by Jaime Jones
5-color decks are very rare but also very rewarding. For these builds to work you usually need to have two primary colors and the rest should be splashed cards. One color should be more relevant than the rest since you mostly want to build 5-color decks when you end up with solid bombs that aren’t hard to splash in your splash.
I know this doesn’t make much sense, so let me rephrase. 5-color builds happen when you’re splashing your third color and end up with a multicolor rare that shares your splash’s color, but it needs a fourth color to cast. A few more picks and then you’re in the same position again, but now it’s a solid removal spell that’s going to need the fifth and final color to work.
One of the advantages of doing this is that you can end up with busted decks that dominate the late game thanks to their card quality. But you can’t just throw a bunch of basic lands into it to make it work. Mana fixers are required so you need to prioritize fixing when you end up in this spot.
I mentioned Cube earlier and I’m not done with it yet. 5-color decks are much more accessible here since there are usually lots of duals in Cube, but your pick order changes a bit.
You can prioritize fixing on your first pack over “decent picks” that aren’t bombs since Cube is filled with them. You might end up with six lands and four playable cards at the end of pack 1, and that’s okay. Six lands is about a third of what you should be running anyway and you can start taking any powerful rare that comes into your way in packs 2 and 3.
I’m not saying you should pass a Star of Extinction or a Teferi, but you should prioritize lands if your picks don’t have that kind of power level. At least in Cube.
5-Color Draft Deck
Seal Away | Illustrated by Joseph Meehan
This is a Simic deck with solid removal and defenders for the early game, but the rest of the deck is a bit all over the place. This is the exact kind of “splashing when you’re already splashing” that I was talking about.
I picked a Mortality Spear that already needed green at the very beginning of the draft, so I was just splashing black at that point. Then I got passed Umbral Juke (great removal) and Hunt for Specimens (great fixer) in the same pack.
I opened one of the best bombs in the set, Blot Out the Sky, in pack 2, which was tough to pass. I took it since I was already splashing black. Unfortunately, I noticed the rest of the colors were closed simultaneously so I spent the rest of my pack 2 picks fixing instead of committing to other cards.
I opened another bomb, Velomachus Lorehold, in pack 3 and decided to make room for the big dragon since I was already splashing white for Blot out the Sky. This last splash let me add a couple cards I picked earlier that I wasn’t sure about yet: Heated Debate and Igneous Inspiration.
This is how I ended up with this 5-color list that I managed to trophy with. It’s a perfect example of what I’ve been describing, but you need to draft a bunch of mana fixers to make it happen.
You might have noticed that red wasn’t a problem when it came to mana, and two of the red lands also produced white mana. It was just a matter of figuring out how to add black. Luckily I’d already picked up a dual that produced both black and green. These lands plus the multiple ways to tutor Environmental Sciences were critical for splashing.
Arena does a fine job suggesting lands, but make sure to double-check which cards you want to play earlier than others. You can usually “wait” longer to draw your splash color the higher the cost of your splash, so don’t play multiple lands that add that color.
You usually play three mana sources for your splash in a 17-land draft deck and the rest is distributed between your main and secondary colors. I suggest eight (main), six (secondary), and three (splash) land splits in normal circumstances.
Remember how I mentioned that you should run more lands the more splashed cards you have? That applies here but also takes mana restriction for 2-color cards into account.
Take Glorybringer for example. You may want to run more than just three sources of your splash color without interfering with your split, even if Glorybringer is your only splashed card. You can play eighteen lands if this happens to maintain your mana integrity. This leads you to mana flood most of the time so cantrips and ramp spells are excellent additions to prevent that.
Another option is to play less lands if your curve is low, but I don’t suggest going below sixteen when you’re splashing. Bottom line: remember that three splash sources are usually enough for one or two cards. You may want to consider a fourth source for three cards, and so on.
Splashing in Sealed is very similar in that you use the same logic. The more cards you want to splash, the more sources you need to add to your deck.
That being said, splashing in Sealed is more frequent than in Draft since you don’t get to choose your cards and you need to fill the holes in your deck based on what you get. You’ll usually be splashing for removal or sometimes for bombs outside of your main colors.
If you want more information about how to build a sealed deck, definitely check out this course by Hall of Famer Ben Stark.
Velomachus Lorehold | Illustration by Raymond Swanlandi
Splashing isn’t hard when you’re used to it, but make sure to not overdo it. Ending up short on playable cards is a fantastic opportunity to splash spells that you were on the fence about. Mana fixing is essential in Magic especially when it comes to Limited, so think twice before passing those Temple of the Dragon Queens or Evolving Wilds.
It’s been a pleasure sharing my thoughts with you! Let me know if you have any doubts or topics you want me to expand more on. Feel free to comment and I’ll be happy to answer! And don’t forget to grab Arena Tutor if you’re playing on MTGA a lot and want a free app to provide draft suggestions track your matches.
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