Magic was the original collectable card game.It was created back in 1993 and there was absolutely nothing else like it. At the heart of the game you pay resources or mana and then you can play cards. But what separated Magic from the other collectable or trading card games to come is what is called the color pie. Last time we covered white and blue. You may read about them here.
When you think of black you think of death magic or the necromancer. While this is true there is a little more to the black mage than just this. He often is necromantic as zombies and demons are tribal creatures as well as undead vampires are key tribes in black. There is so much more to the black mage than this. The best way to sum up the black mage is you can do anything you want… you just have to pay the consequences. For most of us it is the consequences of an action that keeps us from doing certain acts. Murder is wrong. That stops most of us and the consequences of jail or the death penalty prevents others where morality is not a hindrance. For the back mage this is not so. They have a magic card called called Murder.
In Magic The Gathering, black magic often comes at a cost. The easiest consequence is paying more mana for an effect. In many other cases it’s paying an amount of life. Other effects cause you to discard a card to activate it or possibly sacrificing a creature. Because of this black is the most flexible of colors. If you are looking for a certain effect black usually has it. It is just a question of what are you going to pay to use it. About the only effect black does not have is counter magic. Blacks flexibility extends into creature keywords in that if you are looking for a certain keyword on a creature you will find it. This includes abilities you would intuitively not think black would have access to such as lifelink.
More importantly, black’s flexibility strength is in its tutors. Tutor effects allow you to search your deck for a card and either put it on top of your library or in your hand. Black has more tutors than any other color and they are the most broad allowing you to search for anything where other colors restrict what you can look for. Demonic and Vampiric Tutors are not only the cheapest in the game in mana cost, they have other strengths. They let you search for any card and do not require you to reveal the cards as other tutors do. These tutors are expensive and if you can not afford them there are more tutors you can acquire that will do the job. They just are not as mana efficient. There are even tutors on beatstick creatures as well.
The other strength of black is utilizing the graveyard as an asset. This is something we would expect the stereotypical necromancer to do and black does it well. Black has many ways to get cards into the graveyard and then use the graveyard as a resource This is done in several different ways by bringing cards to hand or the battlefield. There are also cards that will allow you to exile cards from your graveyard for an effect. .
As for weaknesses due to its flexibility it has few. It can do anything it just costs a little more. This means black sacrifices tempo when it plays. Black can try to build around this by playing some cheap creatures that do not cost a lot to sacrifice as well as cards with pure power that you do not need as many to win. Or they will find a way to bring the sacrificed cards back from the graveyard. This costs card resources and with other cards costing life to activate or to draw cards the black player can seem to be playing his game at a disadvantage.
Many games can come down to the wire. A black player may find himself at low life but if you win at four life you still win the game. Black can be a stand alone color giving you the three basic areas you need of card draw, ramp, and removal. Still it is inefficient in how it does this so having another color to pair with it to shore up some of its inefficiencies is a strong play. Black also is one of the best partner colors because it will have cards that will help shore up any other colors weaknesses.
When you think of red you think of fire and passion. This is correct as red mages have lots of fire or burn spells.There are dragons and fire breathing and all that you would intuit of the red mage. Red creatures have the common keywords flying and haste. And while the goblin tribe summons up visions of bumbling creatures that is not really the case. Creature wise red either has a lot of high powered fliers or a lot of horde like weak ground creatures. Goblins are not bumblers as much as there are so many of them some may be sacrificed and they will not miss tempo. If you have ever face a goblin commander deck you know how devastating a swarm can be.
What really sums up the red mage is impulsiveness. Often red does what it wants without thinking of the consequences. Because of this it does not always have the best trade offs as it does what it wants now and will let the future resolve itself. Red has many creatures that are strong in power but also has the text “this creature attacks if able” and also the ability to goad other players. You can also see this philosophy in red’s ramp spells as often it is in one time effects to add X mana to your mana pool as opposed to putting a land into play or something that taps for mana.
Another staple to win in commander is card draw. Red has this but often in loot effects. This means red will draw a card and then have to discard a card. This is not card advantage but it is card quality and it shows red’s lack of farsightedness. Once a red mage is top decking the loot effect does little good as they will discard the card they draw. Also red’s impulsiveness often results in chaos. Red has several cards that cause randomness resulting in chaos. Thinking quick on your feet and adapting at the moment and acting is what chaos causes and it plays well into what the red mage is.
Creature destruction is an asset in red. The burn spells count as pinpoint removal if they deal enough damage there are many deal X damage to each creature on the battlefield effects that will help you wipe the board as well. The downside is that the X damage done might not be enough to kill everything on the board.
Red also is strong in removing artifacts. It has excellent artifact removal and has arguably the best artifact removal card in the game in Vandalblast. Over the last couple of years developers have been developing into red a strength in artifact synergies as well. The modern red player often will synergize his deck with artifacts.
Red’s weaknesses are its inefficiencies in the three things every commander deck needs to succeed card draw, ramp and removal. But it’s biggest weakness may be it’s vulnerability to enchantments. Red has no way to deal with enchantments. Once an enchantment hits the field the red player is reliant on other players to remove the offending enchantment. If the red mage can master the art of politics it will be to his advantage.
On its own red is the weakest color for a goodstuff strategy but it works well with a synergy/value strategy. Often red is a splash color because what red does impulsively sometimes can be done better in other colors. Look for red to be a supplement color when choosing your commander, unless you want to swarm the board with a goblin horde.
When you think of a green mage the first impression is nature. You would not be wrong. Green is the color of mana ramp and large creatures to cast from the ramped mana. Green’s signature tribe is elves. Weather in fiction by Tolkien or the D&D world there is no other signature nature loving trope out there than the elf.
Trample is the main keyword in green to allow your creatures to get around chump blocking. In other words green does not evade creatures it just goes over them. Hexproof helps protect those trample creatures from pinpoint removal. Green also has the reach keyword to protect from fliers. Reach allows green to protect against fliers maintaining game balance but at the same time keeps their large butts on the ground so that they do not have an additional form of evasion. Green has some card draw abilities to keep its hand full.
Like mentioned above green is the color of mana ramp. It has many spells that let you search your library for land and put it in play. This again fits the flavor of green and nature. It also has ramp in nature unchecked. There are enchantments and creatures that either double mana production or allow you to hold over mana from turn to turn.
When it comes to removal green can remove artifacts and enchantments very well. This is a flavor win for green. If green is about nature, then nature is wild and will want to overtake the order of artifacts and enchantments. When it comes to removal of creatures, green has to get a little creative. It does not have any direct removal spells unless it targets fliers. Instead green relies on instants and blocking to remove creatures and live. It also relies on the fight mechanic. This leaves green weak to indestructible creatures with no good way to remove them. Although there are a couple of ways to give green creatures indestructible to keep the board state even.
Green is also weak when it comes to removing the battlefield of creatures While some of the removal abilities are limiting Green has all three categories we need in commander, card draw, ramp, and removal. There is a solid case for green to be considered the strongest color in commander and it can play well on it’s own. It is a solid foundation for any commander deck and supplements any other color pie strategy well.
This is a basic overview of the color pie. When you choose the commander keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the colors. This will help you select the cards you need to make a strong deck. It is not a bad idea to decide what colors you want to play first and then find a suitable commander in those colors. Simic or Green-Blue is possibly the strongest color combination because it gives you lots of access to card draw and ramp but you will be reliant to draw lots of cards to find the answers you need. Green-Black is the other color combination that challenges for the top color pairing. Again green brings ramp and big creatures while black will bring removal and tutors for the answers you need.
In the end any color pairing is viable it just may be more difficult to build around. This is because there are also lands and artifacts that bring additional effects into a color pairing that can strengthen it up. You just need to be focused in your card selection to make sure you can achieve your goals.