Of the many unique attributes to Magic: the Gathering, none compare to the massive impact of the game’s five colors themselves. Each of them have been developed over the years to showcase a largely distinct sphere of magical essence. Regardless of the characters portrayed, the planes and worlds visited, or the era in which storyline events took place, the emphasis on the five colors has been a mainstay of the game itself from Dominia through Theros.
Sure, the colors do largely hold to the traditional mystical elements found across most fantasy, being Fire, Earth, Air, Water (with Blue taking the latter two), Life, and Death…
…and some sets have highlighted some colors over others at times…
…and there is overlap between colors in many areas…
…and the early color pie and occasional one-offs makes it hard for people to believe that every color can’t do everything…
Look, the point remains valid – Magic wouldn’t be what it is without each of the five colors working with and against one another to create a strong and steady heartbeat that has powered the game for this long. That’s as true now as it was when the game was originally released. Every color has been honed over the course of more than two decades to provide a distinctly different approach to spells, creatures, and how it wants to completely decimate its opponents.
Indeed, part of the fun when learning the game is trying out each of these colors to ascertain which color will fit your natural play style best. Are you a player who likes to just keep putting creatures out until you can overwhelm your opponents’s defenses? If so, Green would like a word. Would you prefer instead to largely skip dealing with armies and do some heavy fireball slinging? Then Red is your huckleberry. How about simply punishing your opponent for simply being across the table from you, destroying their options at every turn while simultaneously using those assets against them – even if it costs you a little pain in the process? Why, Black’s ledger book is always open for minds such as yours.
All five colors are equally dangerous, even if their delivery methods don’t always seem to be on par with one another. Green, for instance, doesn’t really get fliers, but it is the most adept at destroying or stopping them. From Hurricane and Giant Spider to Whirlwind, to Arbor Colossus, Green has adapted to being excluded in that regard.
Similarly, while White sort of has its hand in every cookie jar to some degree, giving it the impression that the color lacks downsides at all. In reality, aside from small cost-efficient creatures, most of White’s best attributes are slower and more defensive in nature than their opponents. When Armistice, Inheritance, and Mentor of the Meek are your strongest card draw options, for instance, it can quickly temper the idea of White being invulnerable.
When you first begin toying around with color choice, a lot of experimentation usually goes into not only where the strengths and weaknesses of the color are, but where your own preferences also fit along those gaps. Eventually, almost everyone figures out which of the bear’s porridge is just right for them, choosing the color they wish to start off with. In time, players will move into other colors and make new decks as their comfort and experience with the game grows.
For me, that happened almost instantaneously.
To this day, I almost never build monocolor decks. As a general rule, I don’t get a lot of excitement when playing them, let alone building them. From an early age I realized that my real interests in the game were between the hard and fast color barriers. I’ve always enjoyed seeing what the colors can do in different combinations and going beyond the basic understandings of color philosophies. I’ve also had a lifelong fascination with artifacts, the game’s unofficial sixth color. So much so that while I’m often branded as a Blue player at heart (and if I were limited to the five colors that would probably be true), artifacts are where I gravitate towards first.
This is why I have a Karn Commander deck, why Urza and Karn have always been my two favorite characters in Magic, and why the story of the Brother’s War was what sold me on the game for good. Plus, the entire idea of artifacts ties into my natural desire to tinker. It’s sort of a win-win-win-win scenario.
This also explains why I’m always drawn to these three types of cards:
- Nonbasic Land
If they’re worthwhile to me in some capacity – current or future – I will always consider picking up cards in these categories in my travels. Each subcategory provides strategic options while offering a flavoring that’s distinctly outside the scope of any of the five colors alone. Sure, reliance on artifacts and nonbasic lands can be risky, especially in certain play groups, but I’m almost always willing to take that chance. I’ve personally found that while you will occasionally get burned by an Akroma’s Vengeance, or Shatterstorm, or Wave of Vitriol, more often than not their inclusion in a deck is well worth the risk. Hence, this week’s pick.
Today we have: Tolaria West
Name: Tolaria West
Edition: Future Sight
Focus: Card Tutoring / Land Ramp
Highlights: Like many veteran players during the Time Spiral block, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this card when it came out. Flavor-wise, it alludes to the island of Tolaria and the central location of Urza’s research storylines into time travel as a means of fending off the impending Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria. Yet it’s mostly just a wonderful in-game callback to the Tolarian Academy, one of the most powerful (and easily broken) lands ever to be printed on cardboard.
That said, unlike the world-spanning machinations of its original founder, Tolaria West is a functionally simple card to understand while remaining rather potent.
At its most basic, Tolaria West can be a normal mana-producing land if mana is an absolute requirement in the early stages of the game. However, because its ‘enter tapped’ clause in this sense makes it inferior to even your run-of-the-mill Island, it’s typically only used this way if you really have to. For, as a descendant of the Tolarian Academy, its real potential lies in its ability for you to think and plan ahead.
This is done via its Transmute ability. Costing just three mana, you can discard this land and tutor your deck for any card with a CMC of zero. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can quickly give you access to things such as:
- X-based or zero cost creatures (Ornithopter, Endless One)
- Mana-producers (Everflowing Chalice, Astral Cornucopia)
- Zero cost utility artifacts (Engineered Explosives, Spidersilk Net, Tormod’s Crypt)
- Cards without a mana cost (Pact of Negation)
Oh, and then there’s the part about being able to Transmute Tolaria West into any land in your deck.
That last part cannot be overstated. Commander has no shortage of useful utility or acceleration lands, and this card gives you quick and easy access to them while also thinning your deck ever so slightly.
The ability to tutor-cycle a land into any number of possibilities can be incredibly useful, but it’s especially worthwhile in later stages of the game when land isn’t as critical to survival or victory as something else from your deck’s toolbox. This fact alone makes Tolaria West a worthwhile deck inclusion.
Truly, for something so unadorned, it’s remarkable how easy is to overlook such a card and its inherent uses. After all, you generally don’t think of using a land to tutor for other cards. (It’s often the other way around.) For this, Tolaria West is easily worth a second look in cases where you may want – or need – those kinds of searchable options.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org