Mind Bend - Colorless Sunburst

(Etched Oracle | Art by Matt Cavotta)

Rules Are Meant to Be Broken

"As the fifth sun joins the other four, new abilities awaken in the creatures of Mirrodin."

-Suntouched Myr flavor text

In January 2016, alongside the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, the Commander Rules Committee removed what was at the time known as Rule 4. This rule stated that any colored mana you produced would become colorless if that mana was not part of your commander’s color identity.

This might have been a reaction to the then brand-new Kozilek, the Great Distortion, seeing as how with Rule 4 in place you could easily tap Gilded Lotus for any color and immediately produce the much-needed (and also brand new) colorless mana requirement in Kozilek’s cost.

Additionally, Rule 4 interacted with the game in a non-intuitive way. Everyone could easily understand the color-identity-based deckbuilding rules that sets Commander apart from other formats, but nothing about the rules or the spirit of the format informed players that somehow making red mana in your Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck would immediately become colorless. Thus, Rule 4 was gone.

Players rejoiced the cleanup of the rules, while at the same time lamenting the ban of Prophet of Kruphix, which was packaged in the same announcement. However, with the abolishment of Rule 4, one particular commander shot up in popularity and in strength: Sen Triplets.

Sen Triplets decks could now devise ways to get red and green mana into their pools and really capitalize on stealing other player’s spells, no matter what their opponent’s color identity was. You could say that Sen Triplets got to play the game it always wanted to play.

The top 3 Signature Cards on EDHREC for the Triplets show just how much removing Rule 4 helped the deck:

Both Exotic Orchard and Fellwar Stone make the acquisition of red or green mana simple. If your opponent is playing those colors, odds are that they will have a land that provides one or both of them, so not only can you cast those Gruul spells, but you can even use any activated abilities of the cards you cast.

Nowadays, Wizards of the Coast has changed the way that cards playing off the same “cast your opponents stuff” mechanic work. Take, for instance, Grenzo, Havoc Raiser. When one of your creatures gets into the red zone and smacks an opponent, you may get to cast a spell by "[spending] mana as though it were mana of any color.” No need for tricks like Exotic Orchard or Fellwar Stone when Mountain and Fire Diamond will suffice.

Exotic Orchard does still appear in Grenzo, Havoc Raiser’s land section on EDHREC, as does Fellwar Stone in the artifacts section. However, they are not the Signature Cards for the deck like they were with Sen Triplets. They are still useful, as mentioned above, in utilizing a stolen card’s activated abilities.

Another mono-colored commander, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, can steal spells in a similar fashion as Grenzo, but Gonti doesn’t even have Exotic Orchard in the lands section on their EDHREC page. Fellwar Stone is still around, but my guess is that the ever-growing prevalence of two-mana ramp spells makes the card much more appealing to run, without the need for activating any abilities.

So, outside the now-buffed Sen Triplets and the occasional theft of a spell or a permanent, did the removal of Rule 4 change much in the Commander landscape? Not really. I will always stand by the decision; it was the right call to make, and the same goes for the banning Prophet of Kruphix. But wouldn’t it be more fun to explore that extra room the Commander Rules Committee carved out for us players in some way?

Of course we can! This is Mind Bend - the article series meant to break down conventional notions of deckbuilding and the color pie to forge new ground outside the confines of the already established. This time, let’s use all five colors of mana... in a colorless deck!

Getting Any Color

Color identity limits your deckbuilding choices to a specific set of colors based on your commander, so playing color-producing lands in a colorless deck might seem like a steep mountain to climb (pun somewhat intended). However, it’s much simpler than you think.

While we’re prevented from using simple lands like the ever-popular shocklands (Temple Garden, etc.) or any other land that has a colored mana symbol anywhere on it, we can still play any land that says “Add one mana of any color,” as these lands have a colorless identity.

Of course, we can’t play Command Tower and its derivatives, because our commander will be colorless, so these lands are essentially useless. However, Mana Confluence, City of Brass, and of course Exotic Orchard, work perfectly fine in a colorless deck.

To add to this land base, we have other cards that you might never have seen in a colorless deck before.

Forbidden Orchard gets us any color mana, guaranteed. Granted, we have to give a player a Spirit, but we’ll take it. Bonus points if you say “That’s the spirit!” as they create the token. Reflecting Pool is an all-star here, as you only need one other 'any-mana' land to make it shine. Unstable Frontier can make it so you get one more color out of your lands.

In most cases, cards like Unknown Shores and Shimmering Grotto shouldn’t make the cut in a deck’s final build. However, in a colorless deck aiming to make colored mana, they will do just fine.

A bit of deckbuilding history for all the newer Commander players out there: back before Wastes existed, and before the whole heap of great colorless lands that have come out recently, cards like Unknown Shores would see play in colorless decks like Karn, Silver Golem because they fulfilled the requirement of tapping for mana and coming into play untapped. Having a colorless basic land has really changed that landscape.

Here Comes the Sun(burst)

It’s all well and good that you can get away with producing colored mana in a colorless deck, but is there any payoff to make this thought experiment worthwhile? Of course there is! Its name is Sunburst.

The Sunburst mechanic debuted way back in 2004 in Fifth Dawn. It rewarded players for investing different colors of mana into artifacts and artifact creatures with some sort of bonus, either additional +1/+1 counters for each color spent to cast the creature, or additional charge counters on the artifact you cast. These bonuses could go as high as casting a spell with all five colors of mana.

Using Scryfall, my personal choice in searching for Magic cards, I ordered the results by EDHREC Rank (as in, the most played cards appear at the top of the search result). Here are the top three played cards in Commander with Sunburst:

Etched Oracle makes sense in its number one spot. With the most popular commander at the moment being Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, it’s easy to see that the Oracle slides right into a +1/+1 counter deck with Atraxa at the helm. You have access to four colors, so getting the full bonus on Oracle is simple, and Atraxa’s Proliferate ability makes it so you can keep growing counters and drawing cards.

Pentad Prism is a good card for storing mana until needed in another turn, when you can release it all at once. Coupled with Proliferate, as mentioned above, you can perpetually make more mana than you originally invested.

Engineered Explosives acts as a scalpel to remove pesky permanents from the battlefield by allowing you to dictate just how many different color sources will funnel into the Explosives, be it 0 through 5.

Those are the better-known Sunburst cards. What about the less-played ones?

Skyreach Manta can be a simple 5/5 flyer for five mana, not something you see too often in a colorless deck. Lunar Avenger can easily top those stats and provides a versatile threat. Solarion can hang back for a bit and get stupidly huge.

Oh, and Converge is a functional rehash of Sunburst, so Crystalline Crawler acts as another Pentad Prism while also being a potential beater on its own.

Incredible, Stackable Creatures

All told, the deck contains 10 of the 16 Sunburst cards available. However, that doesn’t make a deck anywhere near complete. Luckily, there is a Sunburst card that gives us a hint on where to build next.

That’s right, another mechanic from the original Mirrodin block. This time, it’s Modular!

Modular creatures move their +1/+1 counters over to another artifact creature when they die, meaning that we can amass quite a tall minion without ever losing any power.

Arcbound Ravager is probably the most well-known of the Modular family, being a staple of certain Modern decks, and its power is on display here. A free sacrifice outlet in Commander is nothing to scoff at, and one that can potentially buff up a creature at any time, perhaps even your commander, can be downright frightening. Figuring out how to block an attack from a player with a Ravager out is no small feat.

Arcbound Crusher just gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. In a colorless deck where all your spells are artifacts, this guy can get swole quickly. Also, it cares about ALL artifacts coming into play, not just yours and not just nontoken artifacts. Ever see a Managorger Hydra go nuts? Same idea.

Arcbound Reclaimer can retrieve important threats with very little loss of tempo. Find a way to keep adding counters to it and opponents will have a tough time stopping your steady progress towards victory.

Keep the Counters Coming

Speaking of Steady Progress, all these charge counters and +1/+1 counters could use some Proliferate, don't you think?

Throne of Geth serves two purposes: add more counters to everything, and slosh those Modular counters around. We can kill our creatures at will and build up a massive threat.

Clasp and Bastion both add more to the Proliferate party, the latter a brand-new additiona from War of the Spark. It’s pretty nice to have the important part of Contagion Clasp stapled onto a land.

Mana and Cards - Living the Dream

Another cool set of tech that you won’t see in other colorless Commander decks also comes from Modern.

Chromatic Star and its brothers Chromatic Sphere and Barbed Sextant do two great things at once. First, they provide another way to get needed colored mana, but second, they also help us dig through the deck faster to find our key Modular and Sunburst cards.

Terrarion and the freshly-released Guild Globe further the plan discussed above, providing even more colors of mana and drawing us cards.

Painted Rocks

To add to our one-shot mana-producers, there are a whole plethora of “Add one mana of any color” artifacts available for our tapping delight.

We’ve already discussed the merits of Fellwar Stone, and unless you’re playing against three other colorless decks, it will always tap for mana. Coalition Relic can give us a boost of two different colors of mana on a single turn, and if we add in some instant-speed Proliferate shenanigans, we’re set up for more than that. Firemind Vessel is another War of the Spark card that made the cut here, as being able to generate two mana of different colors puts it in the same realm as Relic. This is unlike Gilded Lotus or even Astral Cornucopia, where you are restricted to one color at a time.

Full Construct(ion)

To helm this mashup of Sunburst and Modular, I’ve chosen Traxos, Scourge of Kroog. The deck is entirely artifact spells, so untapping this trampling beast is rather easy. But that’s not the only reason he's here: with the variety of artifact sacrifice effects in the deck, coupled with the nasty Modular creatures and exacerbated by all the Proliferate available, it's pretty easy to make Traxos put a player in traction. You only need four +1/+1 counters to make two swings lethal with this Dominaria construct.

Colorless Sunburst

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Sunburst (11)
+1/+1s (13)
Dig! (11)
Extra Counters (5)
Ramp (14)
Utility (9)
Land (36)

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Be the Rulebreaker

The old Rule 4 in Commander has been gone for over three years, but new decks capitalizing on this rule change have been slow at best. There may still be plenty of opportunities for unconventional deckbuilding that incorporate this change. If colorless Sunburst burst your mind, I encourage you to try stepping out of the bounds of your normal deckbuilding confines and into lands unfamiliar.

See you again next time for more color-bent insanity!

Jeremy is a data analyst in his hometown of Chicago. He is the commissioner of a Commander league at a local LGS, Near Mint Games. He is also a board member for AnimeChicago, an non-profit anime club for adults, and an avid craft beer fan.