I remember it well.
It all started with Peter Gilbertson playing Five-Color Aggro at the Fargo PTQ. He was looking for a fun deck and decided to play it since the deck had done well at a 68-person tournament in Saint Cloud, MN last November. He finished 5-2 at the PTQ, which is a respectable finish even if some people didn't respect the deck.
Peter's previous round opponent: "I lost to some crazy five-color deck!"
Me: "Oh that's my friend; he's playing Five-Color Aggro."
Peter's opponent: "Don't call it that. Then it sounds like a real deck!"
So I threw it together for a local tournament, and it was such a blast that I played it in back to back PPTQs and finished 2nd and 4th, losing to Whip of Erebos decks both times. I won the next PPTQ after changing the deck to include Butcher of the Horde and Utter End in the maindeck. I then followed it up with just missing top 8 and then making top 8 at the next PTQ.
- 3 Butcher of the Horde
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 2 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Chromanticore
This deck is good because the cards are cost efficient, and you have access to cards that are really good in specific matchups like Crackling Doom against W/U Heroic or Savage Knuckleblade against U/B Control. Additionally, Chromanticore, while it looks like a casual card, is actually quite powerful once it's in play. Peter bestowed it on Surrak Dragonclaw during playtesting, which felt like the best you could do, but at the last PTQ I played in, I got to bestow it on Soul of Innistrad for a 10/10 with flying, vigilance, trample, first strike, deathtouch, and lifelink. My opponent did Hero's Downfall it on his turn, but the ten-point life swing and Chromanticore being left in play was better than his team of Anafenza and Wingmate Roc.
When playing this Five-Color Aggro deck, it's very important to sequence your land drops correctly. If given the option, you will normally play a green tri-land on turn 1 so that you can play a mana accelerant on turn 2 or a Fleecemane Lion. Opulent Palace and Frontier Bivouac are normally the best turn 1 lands, as they give you the blue mana to be able to cast the three-drops of Mantis Rider and Savage Knuckleblade while still giving you a good chance at playing a turn 2 Fleecemane Lion, since there are seven lands that enter the battlefield untapped and produce white mana (3 Battlefield Forge and 4 Mana Confluence) while still setting up any turn 3 play.
You could work the Flooded Strand, Windswept Heath, and Plains into the Fleecemane Lion equation I just presented, but it's generally correct to avoid using a fetchland on the first two turns of the game. Simply put, it's really awkward to fetch a Forest turn 2 via Windswept Heath and then draw a Mantis Rider, or fetch Plains via Flooded Strand and draw Savage Knuckleblade. It is really tempting to fetch the remaining basic land early in the game if the other target is in your hand, but if you sequence your plays or draws incorrectly, you might have just donated a Time Walk to your opponent to avoid a bad draw that would rarely happen.
The same can be said for sequencing Savage Knuckleblade and Mantis Rider. Playing a Savage Knuckleblade and then a Mantis Rider lets you attack for seven on the turn you play Rider. But if you can cast Mantis Rider and next turn cast Savage Knuckleblade and give it haste, you can attack for ten total damage over the course of two turns.
Another thing to note about the manabase: don't be afraid to take damage from your lands. Taking one from a Mana Confluence on turn 2 so that you can cast any card on turn 3 is better than taking zero on turn 2, but not being able to play the card you need to curve out on turn 3. Remember, this is an aggro deck, not a control deck, so more often than not you'll have to take pain from your lands to be able to cast everything on time. Goldfishing a lot of hands will help you realize how you should sequence your lands.
One thing I get asked about a lot is the omission of Goblin Rabblemaster. Anyone who has played with Goblin Rabblemaster can tell you that it is a very swingy card. Sometimes it's absolutely bonkers and kills your opponent before they get to do anything. Other times, however, it just creates a goblin token that dies every turn. I did play a version of this deck with Goblin Rabblemaster previously, and while it was fine, I don't have Stoke the Flames to make it great, and a 2/2 is not the most powerful play when you're a bit mana flooded and need to swing the game back in your favor.
Another inquiry I often receive is about the lack of Anafenza, the Foremost. Like Goblin Rabblemaster, Anafenza has been in and out of the deck, but it really just hasn't performed as well as I would like. You don't have the extra two-drops like Abzan Aggro does to get a really good start in combination with her, and you have less removal to kill Siege Rhino or other large creatures that can profitably block her. My testing has shown that the evasion and myriad of options Butcher of the Horde provides are more important, and the potential boost effect from Anafenza doesn't play particularly well with the vigilance Chromanticore provides.
VS Whip of Erebos Decks
This matchup can be a real grind, but having Mantis Riders and Butcher of the Hordes to fly over is your best way to win. They normally kill your first couple creatures and then you have to have more or you will lose to an active Whip eventually. As the game goes longer you will draw more lands because you don't have Temples or Courser of Kruphix to mitigate that, so it is important to win rather quickly.
Back to Nature and Disdainful Stroke come in, as you need answers to Whip of Erebos and Hornet Queen in case things do end up going long. You should be able to win before a Hornet Queen comes out, but if it does arrive, you need Soul of Innistrad to grind through the insects or a bestowed Chromanticore to first strike and trample over. You could bring in Drown in Sorrow, but it's such a narrow answer, and if you draw it early when you need a creature to keep up the pressure, it's quite poor. I have thought about Doomwake Giant in the board just to solve the Hornet Queen problem, but it just doesn't seem that good, as it can't attack past their Doomwakes or Siege Rhinos depending on what version you're up against.
VS Abzan Aggro
You normally trade creatures and removal for a while, and then take over because your creatures are better than theirs. However, if they have the early Fleecemane Lion backed up with removal, you possibly need a Siege Rhino or Chromanticore to regain control if you have taken a lot of damage from your lands.
You get better removal by replacing the Magma Jets with Hero's Downfall and gain Soul of Innistrad for the lategame. You can take out either Fleecemane Lion or Rattleclaw Mystic depending on how fast you think you need to be.
VS Jeskai Tokens
In the first game, they can overrun you if they get an unanswered Jeskai Ascendancy, but short of that, your creatures are bigger and more evasive. You have Crackling Doom and Magma Jet to kill Goblin Rabblemaster and Seeker of the Way. Stoke the Flames is a very efficient answer to all our threats, which is why a Jeskai Ascendancy and Hordeling Outburst can be trouble.
They get Glare of Heresy, but you get Drown in Sorrow, so the match stays more in your favor than theirs. Back to Nature helps since you need to answer Jeskai Ascendancy. I will always side out Chromanticore here, as it dies to Glare of Heresy and Stoke the Flames, and it's slow against their better draws. Crackling Doom is the other easy cut, as the other removal is both cheaper or better.
VS U/W Control
If you can't answer Elspeth, you die. Thankfully, you can usually kill Elspeth as they will have to use the -3 ability to kill your larger creatures, and then you can play a haste creature to kill the Elspeth or finish her off with a Magma Jet. Savage Knuckleblade is your best creature in this matchup, and it's reasonable to hold it until you can bounce it in response to removal. This is a matchup where you don't want to overextend; just apply pressure with one or two creatures, and they will probably have to tap out for an answer. Then you can play the Knuckleblade with haste or another threat.
VS U/B Control
They don't have Elspeth, so that's good, but if they have Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, it can be ridiculous against you, as your deck is all creatures. Worse, none of your haste creatures kill it particularly fast. However, the board has to be at parity for Ashiok to wreck you, so as long as you maintain pressure you should be good. After that fails, Savage Knuckleblade is again a wrecking ball and has won me many games against U/B.
VS G/R and Temur
These can be troublesome, as they have creatures that match up well against ours. It's a matter of drawing the Crackling Doom in combination with a solid opening; they're simply game over. If you don't draw them, it's more grindy. Ashcloud Phoenix does a nice job of slowing your aerial assault, and Stormbreath Dragon is a nightmare, but thankfully that card isn't terribly popular right now.
*Additional sideboarding If they have Stormbreath Dragon
I don't normally bring in the Disdainful Strokes, as I feel we have to be the aggressive deck and can't waste time holding up mana, but if you think they have Stormbreath Dragon, it's good to bring in some, since it does counter most of their threats in addition to the dragon. This is a matchup where the damage you do to yourself can decide the game if it goes long.
VS R/W Aggro
I've only faced the red aggro decks a few times, but I've done fine against them. R/W Aggro looks worse, as it's a lot of early pressure with Chained to the Rocks providing cheap removal against our creatures and Stormbreath Dragon to finish us off. Lifegain from Siege Rhino and Chromanticore can decide this because, again, you are potentially taking a lot of damage from your lands.
After sideboarding, things gets a little better with Hero's Downfall and Drown in Sorrow, but it doesn't feel like you get the edge. Sorin, Solemn Visitor provides a huge life swing, and it's not uncommon to use his +1 and attack to gain nine or ten life.
What Fate Reforged Brings
Looking towards Fate Reforged, I don't see many cards that really help, but Warden of the First Tree looks like a solid enough addition to the deck. It can help when you only have lands that enter the battlefield tapped by being a turn 2 play for a single mana. The problem with Warden is that the second ability doesn't help very much, and the third is only good in the lategame. I could see playing two copies of it, but it's fairly mana-intensive and you certainly don't want to draw a lot of them.
Battle Brawler is interesting, as almost every creature in the deck gives it the bonus, but having two toughness hurts it in a world full of Courser of Kruphix.
Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury could be a good one-of, as the ability to dash would be good against the control decks, and the pump when attacking is a nice benefit. Unfortunately, it's in the Chromanticore/ Butcher of the Horse slot, and I don't see it being better than those.
If you're looking for something different for the Open Series in Washington DC this weekend, playing Five-Color Aggro is an absolute blast, and your opponents will never know what to expect since you could be playing literally anything. The look on someone's face when you cast and beat them with a Chromanticore is priceless, though sequencing Fleecemane Lion into Mantis Rider into Siege Rhino into Crackling Doom is just as fun.