Monomania – All Things Considered: Colorless

(Victory Chimes | Art by Uriah Voth)

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Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we examine and analyze all things mono-colored in Commander, placing a heightened focus on ramp and draw packages. For about a year we’ve been challenging staples and misconceptions about the color pie. Today, we surge forward with our holistic examination of each each color on its own.

I started this article series by making an example of Staff of Nin, a card that is bafflingly overplayed and also almost exclusive to mono-colored decks. This card still sees play in nearly 10,000 decks on EDHREC. At the time of publishing my first Monomania article, however, the Staff was seeing play in over 13,000 decks. This is a significant decrease with only a year’s change in data. It reminds me that I used to play this card years ago, as well. For years, I thought that mono-colored decks needed cards like Staff of Nin to function. Over time, I came to understand that there are better options, and it appears that other people have, too. Yes, mono-colored decks need colorless spells to fulfill essential roles native to other colors, but the sun has set on cards like Staff of Nin, Jayemdae Tome,and Red Mana Battery (all of which are cards that I’ve played before). So what has changed? Has card selection become more diverse? Or is our understanding of the format progressing and moving away from cards like Staff of Nin? Is Wizards printing better colorless ramp and card advantage, or are we finding better, existing ways to fill these roles? I’d bet a bit of both, but mostly the latter.

We all play EDH, so we all know that the field of Commander-playable colorless cards is so vast that this article could be spin off into its own series. Some colorless cards are easy placeholders until better options are eventually found, and others are crucial to how mono-colored decks function. As such, I’ll try to compile a decent summary here, paying special attention to the cards that I think are underplayed in mono-colored decks, and others that I believe should be avoided. Let’s saddle up for one last ride with the colorless spells that make mono-colored decks tick.


Ramp

For most of us, the thought of artifacts in EDH probably conjures images of Marble Diamond, Solemn Simulacrum, and, the daddy of the format, Sol Ring. Ramp is often largely accomplished with artifacts, and there are near-infinite options for every taste. However, because there are so many choices, sifting through all of them to find a perfect match for your deck is often hard.

Two mana is still my preferred rate for mana rocks, and there are so many options that you can pretty much find as many as you may need. Most of these are cards that need no explanation. For example, Arcane Signet is the best rock printed in over ten years.

That being said, the very best two-mana rocks come in the Medallion cycle. The Medallions are slightly more situational than other options here, but they vastly outpace the competition in the right deck. In any deck that wants to cast more than one spell in a turn and are heavily invested in them, cost reduction can easily “produce” two, three, or even four mana in a turn, which is a great investment.

Cost reduction is truly the most underrated style of ramp effect in EDH; it can enable a strategy better than any other ramp effect. The Monument cycle is among my favorite in the format, and I think that each, except maybe Kefnet’s Monument, have their place. For artifact decks, Foundry Inspector, Jhoira’s Familiar, and Ugin, the Ineffable are all powerhouses. Ugin, the Ineffable, however, is a cut above. Ugin is one of the best cards printed for our format in the last couple of years. As time goes on, I end up incorporating it into more and more of my decks.

Other niche examples that play with particular commanders include Heart Stone and Fluctuator. My hottest take of this article: Planar Gate is in my top ten most desired reprints. I want it more than cards like Command Beacon and Expropriate. I want it more than Teferi’s Protection. Planar Gate only sees play in 106 decks on EDHREC. It’s old and obscure, but, if made more available, it would actually fit into quite a few of my decks.

A few other important categories for me when considering colorless ramp sources for my mono-colored decks are the Ixalan transform cards, mana-producing sacrifice outlets, and colorless mana-doublers. The transform cards are mostly decent, but the real stars are Thaumatic Compass, Treasure Map, Dowsing Dagger, and, most of all, Primal Amulet. All of these cards flip into some of the best lands available in EDH, and their conditions aren’t too prohibitive to accomplish. There’s nothing more to say, really, about Ashnod’s Altar, Phyrexian Altar, and Krark-Clan Ironworks. They’re EDH royalty and are the cornerstones of aristocrat strategies. Finally, there are four powerful colorless mana doubling effects available to us, including Extraplanar Lens, Gauntlet of Power, Gauntlet of Might, and Caged Sun.


Card Advantage

Colorless card advantage is a tricky subject in Commander. We all know and love Skullclamp and Memory Jar, but outside of these two examples, it’s hard to sift through the sea of Sorcerer’s Strongboxs and Jalum Tomes. Wizards is still printing artifacts that tap to draw a card at absurd rates. It is one of the areas of the game that power creep has only barely touched. They just printed a strict upgrade to Jayemdae Tome in Arcane Encyclopedia, and that card is still a few numbers away from being playable; you have to pump a total of six mana into it to draw one card, nine mana to draw two, twelve mana to draw three, etc. It’s nowhere near practical.

These three options all come down for two mana and aren’t obscenely costed. Surprise, they’re all recently printed and are either from Commander or Brawl products. Endless Atlas fits into any mono-colored deck but is the worst among these options and suffers a similar fate to Arcane Encyclopedia. It comes out a bit better, though. With the Atlas, you need to pay four mana to draw one card, six to draw two, eight to draw three, and so on. Tome of Legends is great for combat-focused commanders that come down early such as Sram, Senior Edificer or Hope of Ghirapur. Finally, I love Idol of Oblivion, and it is underplayed in Commander. There are plenty of mono-colored commanders that revolve around token strategies. Think Valduk, Keeper of the Flame or God-Eternal Oketra. In total, you spend two mana to draw as many cards as you can over as many turns as possible. Even if you only draw two cards, Idol of Oblivion is decent. And if you don’t have the time to accrue value over time, you can cash it in for a big creature.

Moving higher up the mana curve, Mind’s Eye is a horribly misunderstood card that hasn’t performed well in any of my mono-white decks, but has been incredible in my Patron of the Orochi and Gargos, Vicious Watcher decks. Vanquisher’s Banner is a great engine for Elf, Goblin, and Merfolk decks. Finally, Horn of Greed is one of the best cards for mono-green Landfall decks such as Titania, Protector of Argoth and Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar.

Finally, there are actually a few lands that have the capacity to draw cards. These three are the best examples, and I suspect that Bonders’ Enclave will come to be my favorite. How many of the most popular mono-colored commanders have three or more power? Out of the top ten mono-white commanders, eight out of ten; in mono-red, six out of ten; and in mono-green, only three out of ten naturally have three or more attack, but four others naturally and quickly grow their attack. I’m excited to try this card.


Win Conditions

Win conditions are actually a strong suit for colorless spells in Commander. Somewhere along the line, Wizards landed on the idea that the biggest, scariest monsters in Magic should be colorless.

I’m not a huge fan of Mindslaver locks for a few reasons. They’re unwieldy, slow to win, and they are boring to play against. It is a fairly popular win condition, though, so I should mention it here. You can even pull off this lock in any color, too, by combining Mindslaver with Prototype Portal. Many of the best big beaters in our format are actually colorless. From Blightsteel Colossus to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Golems and Eldrazi are great ways to end games. One of my favorite game-ending packages revolves around It That Betrays. If you run this Eldrazi with other Eldrazi that have Annihilator, they could take over the game easily. Finally, Aetherflux Reservoir is the best card in Storm decks and any deck that can cycle through cards at a quick rate.


In Review

As always, this is the section in which I would like to address cards that I think are underrated. This is the last one, so I’ll try to make it count.

Springleaf Drum is part of a suite of cards I find underplayed, including Honor-Worn Shaku and Paradise Mantle. Tapping a creature to produce mana that isn’t Llanowar Elves seems to be anathema to Commander players. There are plenty of generals that don’t want to attack and don’t tap for activated abilities, as well as commanders that produce creature tokens. Springleaf Drum is sincerely an incredible card for our format. It can utilize creatures affected by summoning sickness, and it is less vulnerable to removal than an Elvish Mystic.Victory Chimes was most likely dismissed when it was released because it was part of Battlebond, and the implication was to gift your extra mana to another player. I, however, play this card in my mono-colored decks that play at instant speed. I’ve had great success with it in Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and God-Eternal Kefnet. Finally, Oblivion Sower is for the highlight reels. Yes, I’ve whiffed with this card. I’ve also cast it targeting an opponent that already had lands exiled and dropped five lands directly onto the battlefield with it. Six mana is a lot, but it can be worth it in decks that want to go big.

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One last point I want to touch on—my automatic six. Whenever I build a non-green, mono-colored deck, I start with six cards: Sol Ring, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Burnished Hart, Solemn Simulacrum, Zoetic Cavern, and Myriad Landscape. Over time, I’ve come to find that they all provide necessary ramp utility. Do you agree?

Anyway, that’s a wrap on Monomania. Let me know all your thoughts and doubts in the comments below. Do you all have an automatic six? What colorless cards see too much play as placeholders in EDH decks? What colorless cards are just better than colored options? Please do let me know! Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.