One-Color Wonders

In the Commander format, your General’s color identity determines which cards your deck has access to.  There are legendary creatures that qualify to be general in every two- and three-color combination, as well as a total of eleven generals with all five colors in their identity.  With each color beyond the first a general has in its color identity, the pool of cards available to your deck increases greatly.  So why, then, would anyone ever choose a mono-colored general?

Well, put simply, it’d be kind of a boring game if there weren’t mono-colored generals running around, because there are more mono-colored generals available than multicolored generals.  There are currently 64 white creatures that qualify to be a general.  It is entirely possible (though extremely inadvisable) to build a mono-white deck with nothing but legendary creatures in it.  In comparison, each two-color combination tends to have around 20 qualifying creatures, each allied-three-color combination has an average of 8, and each enemy-three-color combination sports 3 or 4.  Without mono-colored commanders, the format would be far, far less diverse.


ADVANTAGES OF MONO-COLORED GENERALS

“Who else is gonna do my job? Tariel? Oros?”

Mono-colored decks tend to be less beholden to their generals.  If you build a Doran, the Siege Tower deck, then he’s set in stone as general.  None of the other three Green-White-Black generals are going to be able to fill his shoes if, for whatever reason, you felt like changing him out with another legendary creature in your deck.  With 63 other options, however, your mono-white general can more easily have someone else in the deck substitute in for him.

The mana base is much more stable.  You never have to worry about finding all your colors of mana to cast spells.  If you have a mono-green deck, the majority of your lands are going to be Forests.  Any lands you pick beyond your basic lands are going to be used for utility instead of mana fixing.  You will never get hosed by the likes of Blood Moon.

Mono-colored decks are more budget-friendly.  Since somewhere around 1/3 of your deck is going to be basic lands, you only have to worry about that other 2/3 of the deck.  You can spend your budget on awesome spells, instead of the lands that let you cast those spells.

Restrictions breed creativity.  Unless you have a very specific plan going in, it’s daunting to build a five-colored deck.  There are over 12,000 cards available to choose from, and you have to select the best 99 of them.  When building a deck for a mono-colored general, say for instance Balthor the Defiled, your card pool is a fraction of that.  Pretty soon you’ve developed yourself a minion-tribal renimator deck in an hour or two – a process which would have taken much longer for a multicolored general.

There are great cards that reward a mono-colored strategy.  Cards like Strata Scythe, Extraplanar Lens, Vedalkan Shackles, and Crackdown.

The shallower card pool isn’t as big a deal as you think.  Consider the pool of available mono-blue cards and artifacts.  I’d estimate there’s probably about 1800 cards to choose from (keep in mind this is a VERY rough estimate).  Of that pool, there’s probably 200 cards that are really good, can win games, and/or are contenders for “format staple.”  Well, guess what?  You can only include 99 cards in your deck, and a third of those are lands.  So, realistically speaking, you can only play about 60 of those 200 “really awesome cards,” minus the less-than-awesome cards you are adding for flavor and theme.   A five-color deck has access to every single one of those over 12,000 cards, and it can STILL only play about 60 of them.  The power level of a mono-colored deck is, for all practical purposes, equal to that of a multi-colored deck in this format.


DISADVANTAGES OF MONO-COLORED GENERALS

“Gosh, I hope you weren’t planning on playing 90% of the spells in your deck…”

Iona, Shield of Emeria exists.  Seriously, look at her.  That’s ridiculous.  With one spell, your opponent can shut down your entire deck.  “Yeah, but she’s nine mana,” You might say.  You think Kaalia of the Vast cares about that?  Or Mayael the Anima?  How about anyone with a reanimator deck or a Quicksilver Amulet?  You must assume that any deck capable of managing that triple-white casting cost, or cheating white creatures into play counts Iona amongst their 99 cards.  Sometimes, people even play her as their general.  You MUST have a plan for dealing with her, or you put yourself at the mercy of everyone else at the table.

Color-Hosers exist.  True, they’re not played with great frequency, because they’re limited in scope, but they are played nonetheless.  Some, like Karma, combo with cards like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.  Others, like Gloom, are flavorful.  Hosers like Omen of Fire are just plain powerful, and always worth considering – especially in mono-colored decks.

Having only one color limits options.  Mono-black decks are going to have a hard time dealing with enchantments and artifacts.  Mono-blue decks are going to have a hard time keeping up when everyone else at the table is ramping.  Generals with protection from colors like the popular Animar, Soul of Elements are going to find your deck a paved, 8-lane highway to dealing 21 general damage.

So how does a mono-colored Commander deck overcome these disadvantages?  Well, I’m glad you asked…


OVERCOMING THE DISADVANTAGES OF ONE
COLOR

Every commander player needs to have some idea about the weaknesses of their deck.  “What is my Merfolk Tribal deck going to do about flying creatures?”  “How do I cast my own non-creature spells with my Ruric Thar general out?”  This is no different for mono-colored Commander decks, because their weaknesses have a tendency to be amplified.

Have colorless removal available.  If a player casts Iona, naming your deck’s only color, you can’t count on anyone else at the table to get rid of her.  You have to be proactive, which means you need the tools to do so.  I’m a big fan of Brittle Effigy, because it means most times I’m never going to see that problem card again for the rest of the game.  Oblivion Stone has become a colorless Commander staple, and should be in any mono-colored deck.

Beware of other mono-colored decks, especially those in your enemy colors.  If you’re playing mono-black, and another player is playing mono-white or mono-green, then keep your eyes on them.  They are the most likely to run color hosers, because these are the decks that take maximum advantage of them.

Ally with players whose decks share your color.  Just because you can’t count on other players to bail you out doesn’t mean it never happens.  That guy who is playing Lavinia of the Tenth as his general is going to be almost as miffed as the player sporting Empress Galina as their general  when Curse of Merit Lage comes into play.  Sometimes they have even MORE to lose.  Putefaction (seen to the right) is going to be a much bigger problem for Tolsimir Wolfblood than it will be for Jolreal, Empress of Beasts.  Don’t neglect the “above the table” game.  If you can’t deal with a threat that’s terrorizing your deck, perhaps your ally can.


ANALYZING COLOR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES


WHITE:
 
Though many Commander players consider blue or green to be the strongest single-color decks in the format, I believe this distinction actually goes to white.  Unlike every other color, white really has no weaknesses.

Nice army you have there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.

Strengths:  It has the strongest and most numerous sweepers.  It is able to exile or destroy every permanent type except planeswalkers.  Excellent equipment support makes for great Voltron decks.  Plainswalk is rare to find.  Strong control options.  Great flying creatures, and excellent defensive options.

Weaknesses: Few cards to deal directly with Planeswalkers.  Not much in the way of ramp; you’re limited to artifacts and cards like Land Tax and Tithe.

Notable Generals: Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Kemba, Kha Regent, and Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero.

Supported Tribes:  Angels, Cats, Clerics, Rebels, Soldiers, Knights, Humans


BLUE:
  Considered by many to be the strongest single-color deck in Commander, it hosts strong control and combo options.

You’re not in Kansas any more.

Strengths:  Almost every counterspell in the format is blue.  Strong control options through tap and bounce effects.  Many effects change control of permanents, making for strong thievery decks.  This color has many draw effects and can easily achieve card advantage.  Many game-ending combos are available in mono-blue, and these decks can take infinite turns.

Weaknesses:  Very limited removal.  Sweeper cards don’t destroy, they bounce – like Evacuation.  Few aggressively-costed creatures.  Mono-blue decks tend to be ganged up on at the table, because players assume the deck is seeking to take infinite turns or win by combo.  Has the same problem with ramp that white does, if not worse.  Creatures with Islandwalk tend to do unfair things when they hit you.

Notable Generals:  Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Teferi, Mage of Zalfir, and Sakashima the Imposter.

Supported Tribes:  Wizards, Merfolk, Faeries, Sphinxes, Illusions, Drakes


BLACK:
 This is the most played color in Commander, though it’s not known to be a very popular mono-colored deck in the format.  It probably has simultaneously the greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses when played alone.

Yes, your opponents can lose more life than they actually have.

Strengths:  Black has the best tutors in the game.  It is second only to white in quality and quantity of sweepers.  There exist many amazing black cards that cannot be easily played in multicolor decks – cards like Phyrexian Obliterator and Necropotence.  It has strong card advantage, rivaling even blue if you can keep your life total high enough.  With reanimation and recursion spells, black makes the best use of the graveyard.  Demons are huge creatures that grant unfair advantages, at a price.

Weaknesses:  Artifacts and enchantments are going to rock you hard.  Black has practically no ways of dealing with them.  Protection from black is relatively common.  Color hosers hit black the hardest in the game – if you play Commander long enough, you are definitely going to see Lifeforce.  It will hurt bad, and since it ‘s an enchantment, there’s precisely squat you can do about it.

Notable Generals:  Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon.

Supported Tribes:  Demons, Vampires, Zombies, Minions, Rats, Horrors, Humans


RED:
 
Commonly considered the weakest of colors in Commander,  it has some fun chaos options, speed and utility.

I smell untapped mountains.

Strengths:  Dragons.  Strong tribal support.  Land destruction options.  Dragons.  Aggressively-costed creatures.  Mono-red can make use of great creatures with cheap pump effects that multicolored decks can’t properly abuse.  Plentiful artifact destruction in an environment with many artifacts that need destroying.  Dragons.  Red has big creatures with flying, trample and/or haste.  Like dragons.

Weaknesses:  The speed that makes red great in other formats doesn’t matter much in Commander, when everyone starts with 40 life.  Burn isn’t terribly strong either in a format where creatures tend to be big.  No means of dealing with enchantments.  Sometimes you cast Warp World and end up in a worse position than when you started.

Notable Generals:  Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and Krenko, Mob Boss.

Supported Tribes:  Dragons, Goblins, Giants, Elementals, Minotaurs, Humans, Dragons


GREEN:
  Mono-green Commander decks tend to be the fastest, swifter even than mono-red.  With big creatures, reliable ramp, and wide flexibility, Green is a solid mono-color choice in Commander.

That squirrel isn’t so cute when you realize he alone is responsible for 1/3 lethal general damage.

Strengths:  A mono-green deck can generate absurd amounts of mana quickly.  Many spells and abilities destroy “target permanent,” giving the color great utility and board control.  Excellent creature tutors.  Elves are in contention for strongest tribe in the game.  Green creatures come with big power, and lots of excellent abilities – deathtouch, trample, and regeneration.

Weaknesses:  Green has the weakest sweepers, the majority of which only hit creatures in the air.  This color loses it’s strongest characteristic – big creatures – in this format, because most decks are playing big creatures.  Its most reliable creature-destruction mechanic is fighting, and so mono-green has little means of destroying larger creatures.

Notable Generals: Azusa, Lost But Seeking, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, and Omnath, Locus of Mana.

Supported Tribes:  Elves, Treefolk, Spiders, Snakes, Wolves, Wurms, Humans, Druids, Beasts

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