Uncommanders - Prismatic

Alejandro Fuentes • October 17, 2023

What's the Color of an Idea?

What's up, everyone! Welcome to the format of the people, Pauper. Most of us play this format specifically for budget purposes, to build decks that won't leave our wallets gasping for air. While some EDH decks can get up to thousands of dollars, even the most competitive pEDH decks stay around a hundred. When decks are constructed exclusively out of bulk box commons, they stay pretty cheap. Of course, the downside of playing with 50-cent cards is that the power level is way down. Or is it?

Up until recently, I had thought that there were no uncommon five-color creatures. Turns out, there's eight of them? Some of them are pretty dull, like Transguild Courier, which really only serves the purpose of having access to every common Sliver. However, there's an incomplete cycle from the Alara block which is quite cool. Three-mana creatures, but they have a WUBR ability. Now that's an interesting build-around. Paragon of the Amesha and Fleshformer are decently powerful, but I'm a Jund guy, so I'm gonna go with Dragonsoul Knight, which can pay five mana to summon its Dragon steed. 

I'm Broke, OK?

I wanted to build a five-color deck to prove a point. Most five-color mana bases are stupid expensive. The average price of a Shockland, a Fetch, and a Triome is around ten dollars. Put ten of each in a mana base, and you're up to $300. With those lands and another $300 in ramp/mana fixing, you basically have perfect mana. Never once will you have five mana sources, but not all five colors. The point is, with the perfect mana base, you can activate Dragonsoul Knight as soon as you have five lands. You'll always have what you need, because the mana base is that good. But naturally, none of that is Pauper-legal, so naturally, the question is, can we do the same thing with only commons? 

Strixhaven Science Fair

Let's do a bit of science. I'm going to build a deck around Dragonsoul Knight, but I'm going to leave space for 16 pieces of ramp, and 38 lands. There's going to be one set of cards that's Pauper-legal, and another that is going to be blinged the heck out. Each deck is going to be run through the Archidekt playtester ten times. On each of those runs, I'm going to count how many turns it takes to activate Dragonsoul Knight for the first time. I don't think I'm going to be able to perfectly compete with the money deck, but my goal is to be able to activate it less than one turn behind, on average. I'm going to prove that a budget mana base can be just as flawless as an expensive one. 

Fetchlands, Shocks and Triomes. 

  • Game 1: Started with 4 lands, Activated turn 5.
  • Game 2: Started with 2 lands, Activated turn 4.
  • Game 3: Started with 1 land, Missed land drop turn 2 & 3, Activated Turn 6. (Faithless Looting failed to find lands.)
  • Game 4: Started with 2 lands, Activated turn 5.
  • Game 5: Started with 4 lands, Activated turn 4.
  • Game 6: Started with 3 lands, Activated turn 4.
  • Game 7: Mulligan Once, Start with 3 lands, Activated turn 4.
  • Game 8: Started with 2 lands, Missed land drop turn turn 3, 4 & 5, Activated turn 6.
  • Game 9: Started with 3 lands, Missed land drop turn 4, Activated turn 5. (Night's Whisper, Thrill of Possibility, and Tormenting Voice all failed to hit a land.)
  • Game 10: Started with 3 lands, Activated turn 3. (Mana Crypt, Chromatic Lantern, Chrome Mox.)
  • Avg. Time to First Activation: 4.6 turns

For the most part, this deck was able to ramp on turn 1 or two, play the Knight on turn three, and activate it on turn 4. Noble and Ignoble Hierarch are both great ramp pieces, and they're also incredible for mana fixing. If these guys got played on turn one, it's almost certain that the Knight will be activated on turn 4. For the most part, that was true. The deck didn't get color-screwed once. If it was behind at all, it was because of ramp/card draw luck, not because it didn't have the colors. Chromatic Lanterns, Birds of Paradise, and Chrome Mox all make it extremely easy to get what we need, not to mention all the fetches that will give us access to nine out of ten of the Triomes that are in our deck.

You might notice that the deck did have a few flukes, such as game eight, where it missed three land drops. Keep in mind that I'm testing color-fixing, not card draw. 

The Champion of the People

Next up, we have the Pauper deck. How in the world are we going to compete with $600 of land and ramp? First of all, we need to find the key pieces. The thing that really enables that mana base is the fetches. Thanks to the land types on the Shocks and Triomes, any fetch can get any color. We need some of those, and luckily, common fetches exist. They're... a bit worse, but we can make them work. The cycle of locations from Streets of New Capenna gives us the choice between three basic lands, tapped. A strictly worse cycle from Alara will do the same for a mana. With ten of these in the deck, we'll always have the option to get whatever single color we're lacking. To get the other four, we have all the Thriving Gates. These lands are fantastic, and I play them even when I'm not playing Pauper. You get one as a given, and you can just pick any other color? Mana-fixing becomes trivial. With these lands, all you have to do is close your eyes, make a wish, and boom, you've got that color named on your land. These lands will carry the deck. 

Outside of the cycles that we're running, Transguild Promenade and Gateway Plaza are perfect mana, as long as we pay the tax. Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse are the fetch cycles, but they can grab anything, and of course, Command Tower tops it off. With that, we have ten slots left for two of each basic land. (I totally didn't forget those and made a deck with no targets for my fetches)

The budgetless deck's color-fixing is all in the lands, so it can get away with running cards like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring, which accelerate it, but don't solve any color issues. However, our lands are a bit more sloppy, so we want all our ramp to also get the right colors of mana. Cultivate and all its siblings are perfect. There's also a good amount of dorks, like Wose Pathfinder, which tap for anything. Shoutout to Sylvok and Quirion Explorer, which almost always tap for everything. Fertile Ground and Trace of Abundance are also great two-drops, and they dodge creature board wipes.

So, with this in place, how does the deck do?

Pauper Deck:

  • Game 1: Started with 2 lands, Activated turn 5,
  • Game 2: Started with 2 lands, Activated turn 5.
  • Game 3: Started with 2 lands, Missed land drop turn 3, Activated turn 6. (Unfortunate curve.)
  • Game 4: Started with 3 lands, Activated turn 5 (Slowed by tapland.)
  • Game 5: Started with 3 lands, Activated turn 5.
  • Game 6: Started with 3 lands, Activated turn 4.
  • Game 7: Started with 5 lands, Activated turn 5. (Screwed by Heap Gate.)
  • Game 8: Mull to five, Started with 2 lands, Missed land drops turns 3,4,5 & 7, Activated turn 9.
  • Game 9: Started with 4 lands, Activated turn 5.
  • Game 10: Started with 2 lands, Activated turn 6. (Taplands kick my butt.)
  • Avg. Time to First Activation: 5.5 turns

Hey, that's pretty good. I reached my goal, just 0.9 turns behind the Shocks and Fetches. Let's evaluate. First off, there's one egregious game where all my bad luck piled up. Three times, I drew a hand with only one land, and after taking a mulligan down to five, I still managed to miss my land drop, three times in a row. That was painful. However, that was a ramp and card draw problem, and could probably be improved. It wasn't that I didn't have all five colors until turn nine, I just didn't have the mana sources. By turn nine, I had five mana sources, and all five colors of mana. That's a win in my book.

Interestingly, taplands only slowed me down twice, on games 4 and 10, and they only slowed me by one turn. On every other game, the result would've been the same regardless of whether the lands had entered untapped. If you've been afraid to put tap lands in your deck, don't be. As long as they're played on the right turn, they'll hinder you once in a blue moon, and the color-fixing that comes from a Frontier Bivouac is well worth it.

Data Can be Misleading

In hindsight, this science experiment was a bit flawed. I figured that the time when the Knight was activated would align with when we had all five colors, and it did, but the decks were both so good that five mana sources always equaled five colors. If you look at my notes about the various reasons why a game went slowly, not once do I mention that the Knight couldn't be activated due to color reasons. The average number represents how good the ramp was, not how good the color fixing was. Luckily, this is because the color fixing was perfect. While this gives me a big win on the point that Pauper mana fixing can be just as good as normal mana fixing, it does imply that Pauper ramp is a bit slow. Maybe next time we can see just how fast commons can ramp?

Commander (1)
Lands (38)
Artifacts (14)
Creatures (6)
Enchantments (13)
Instants (17)
Sorceries (11)

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Fetch Me a Swamp, Will You?

So, as it turns out, there's not much limiting you in terms of colors. It does require a bit of brainpower to check your lands and make sure you're fetching the right land every time, but the end result is the same as $600 dollars. Before I revealed the results, what did you think was going to happen? And do you think that with some careful deckbuilding, a pEDH deck can ramp and draw as many cards as a normal EDH deck? I'm going to keep answering these questions on Uncommanders, so make sure to stay tuned in. Until next time, I wish you luck on your draws! Grumble, grumble, stupid triple mulligan.

Alejandro Fuentes's a nerd from Austin Texas who likes building the most unreasonable decks possible, then optimizing them till they're actually good. In his free time, he's either trying to fit complex time signatures into death metal epics, or writing fantasy novels.