Hey everyone! Most modern sets are designed with two-color draft archetypes in mind and are aimed at pointing players in this direction. Some sets have a different spin on this, such as Khans of Tarkir, Shards of Alara¸ and Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, but this holds true for most recent sets. However, that wasn’t always the case. Before this design philosophy existed, most sets had looser connections and were mostly just about you mashing two colors together and hoping it went well. An example of this is Champions of Kamigawa, which has almost no multi-colored cards in the entire block. Even before this, sets were internally competitive and forced people to go into more general archetypes and truly forcing you to make colors play nice; this was more done for the purposes of block constructed, but it heavily affected limited play too.
In all of this, there is one option that can avoid some of the headaches of these design philosophies: going mono-color. Seen as sub-optimal in modern draft sets, going one color was seriously viable in older sets and can still be done today, though the payoffs are less-pronounced now. Today, we’re going to look at some aspects about going one color by observing some pros and cons to this strategy. Additionally, we’ll also look at some newer sets that reward going this route to see this strategy at its best. With all that said, let’s get into it!
One of the best incentives of going one-color is the mana base. There won’t be some awful amalgamation of a mana base with this strategy: just stick a bunch of basic lands of the same type and you’re good to go! Dual lands are actually discouraged in this setup due to how they’ll slow your mana base down, as they’ll more than likely come into play tapped or require extra hoops to jump through. Going mono-color also means you’ll be able to afford more colorless utility lands you pick up. Colorless lands are problematic in any multi-color deck because of the consistency issues they cause in your mana base and, thus, need to do something pretty extraordinary to make up for this. In a mono-color deck, however, you don’t have to worry about fixing as bad due to the presence of only one color. This doesn’t mean you should pick up every utility land you see, but you can safely pick up 3 or 4 and feel fine about it.
Another advantage is the ease of splashing another color. While this is about going one color, sometimes you’ll see an off-color bomb that’s just too good to pass up. For example, if you’re going mono-red in a Core Set 2021 draft but open Primal Might in a pack, then you will probably want to pick it up so you can either use it or deny an opponent a good piece of removal. You can always pick up some dual lands to help you with the splash (which I would recommend at this point) but if you can’t, there’s no reason to fret. The fact that your mana base is so easy means you can easily incorporate more basic lands than usual for your splash at around 5-6 depending on how color heavy you are. Of course, the splashing rules apply and, if you put too many off-color spells in, you may want to reconsider your core strategy.
Would you really pass something like this up?
Lastly, a big perk about going mono-color is the types of spells you can play in this kind of deck. Many spells with a lot of the same type of mana symbols are hard to cast in a regular limited deck due to the types of lands you have in your deck and the spells requirements. In a single color deck, however, the chances of you getting to there are a lot better due to the presence of only one type of land! This means you can cast your absurd spells a lot easier as all you have to do is count your lands and make sure the CMC matches up with that number. So go ahead and activate your Wakeroot Elemental’s ability or cast Enter the Infinite! You got this!
Unfortunately, things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows with going this route. There are some drawbacks that have to be considered when deciding to go with one color. One of them is the efficiencies of the deck and how it interacts with the opponents. Blue, for example, interacts with the board a lot differently than black, which is in turn different than green. All of this pigeonholes your deck into a more linear strategy that can be played around more easily without any payoffs for going this route. For example, going mono-white means that your creatures probably aren’t going to be that big and powerful on their own and will need help to get to that point. Overcoming those weaknesses will need to be a big part of your game plan and will test your skills as a player.
In a continuation of the previous part, one big thing that mono-color decks have to worry about is color hate. This is more prevalent in core sets, but other sets do have some sort of color hate in the form of protection in certain cards. In the second and third games, color hate can really ruin your day by presenting a very real roadblock that you may not be able to overcome. In this situation, you may have to get creative in finding the solution out to get the win.
Better hope you’re not mono-black
Lastly, one big drawback to going mono-color is the quality of your deck. Continuously taking only one card in your draft pool will cause that color to dry out faster and leave you with suboptimal cards a lot faster. One way to combat this would be to take a bunch of artifacts (which you’ll probably have to do anyway) but this still doesn’t detract from the fact that you’ll probably be stuck with random chaff just to get a good curve. If you see your color is drying up rather quickly, it’d be best to abandon the mono strategy and switch over to two colors to improve your deck.
Examples of Payoffs
Now that we’ve discussed how some of the pros and cons of going mono-color, let’s look at some sets that actually reward you for going this route. Believe it or not, there have been two sets in the recent past that encourage this: Throne of Eldraine and Theros: Beyond Death. Wizards seems to have done these two back-to-back in order to push mono-color decks in standard after a long period of time with the shocklands legal from both Ravnica sets (they then proceeded to release Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths which has a wedge theme, but whatever). Both of these mono sets can give us an insight in how a set can pay you off for going this route and different approaches for doing this. Note that while I’ll be specifically talking about the recent Theros set, the previous block follows all the same beats more equally; however, I have more experience and things to say about the recent set and can talk about it a lot easier.
Throne of Eldraine
Throne’s flavor of pushing mono is rather cool. The idea is that you’re focused on one area of the Realm and are adamant to earn its crest or something. Speaking of which, the primary incentive for going one color is the new mechanic called “adamant.” Adamant gives a spell an additional bonus if you spend three mana of a certain color. For example, you can spend any amount of mana to get Outmuscle going, but spending 3 green mana will make your creature indestructible as part of the effect. Every color has one “paladin” to represent a knight from a specific castle with this effect, as well as a common and uncommon instant or sorcery; two artifact creatures with this effect are also present. This gives you a good way to become mono-color at the lower rarities and can have some pretty big effects for triggering the ability. Additionally, the set also has two cycles at rare (castle lands and legendary nobles) and a cycle of mythic artifacts that require heavy mono-color investment to either cast or activate, as well as a cycle of common lands that come into play tapped unless you have three or more a certain basic that pay you off for having it.
This set differs from Theros in that the payoffs are present in the mana base of your deck. Adamant doesn’t care about what’s in the deck and just demands you have the requisite mana sources to get it going. You can put Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig in a R/G deck and find a way to cast him: you just probably won’t do it on turn 3. This creates a looser restriction on the decks that are still very rewarding for going with one-color. The only downside is that there is a cycle of uncommon color hosers that hurt their own color. If an opponent pulls one of those out, you have to find a big way around it.
Example of Adamant
Theros is another world where going mono-color is rewarded in some way. Both trips to the plane feature the same mechanic to push you in this direction: devotion. Devotion is a mechanic that goes off at varying levels based on the amount of specific mana symbols exist on your permanents. For example, if you have 3 permanents that each require at one white mana to cast in their casting costs, your devotion to white is three. This comes from the fact that Theros is home to many Greek-inspired gods that watch over the mortal races and interact with one another. The idea of devotion is that you become more and more devoted to your chosen deity by continuing to get certain colored permanents on your board and will be rewarded for doing so. This can range from decreasing casting costs to getting bigger ETB triggers. The biggest payoffs for devotion, however, are in the gods of the plane, which, when on the battlefield, become creatures only when your devotion to their respective color(s) reaches a certain point. In the latest Theros set, things are a bit uneven. Each color has one mythic god and an uncommon demigod that all do color appropriate things. The gods aren’t creatures and only enchantments unless your devotion reaches a certain level; the demigods, on the other hand, have a specific stat determined by your devotion to a color. After this, the colors become very uneven. Red gets absolutely nothing else, blue gets a win con at rare and a flash creature, white gets some tokens and a cheaper flyer, black gets some kill spells (and Gary), and green gets some pump stuff and a life gain creature.
All of this amounts to the fact that devotion cares about mono-color in a very different way than adamant. Instead of the lands, devotion looks at your board state to get paid off for going a single color. While this allows for a more complex mana base and works even in a multi-color deck, it makes your payoffs more vulnerable due to how the mechanic works. If you rely on a bunch of creatures to get your devotion high enough, a board sweeper can derail the entire strategy and make you start from square one. Overall, this mechanic is definitely better for constructed than limited due to the ability to fine-tune your deck with more devotion cards.
Good example of devotion from original Theros
Both of these mechanics, though radically different in terms of function, point you in the same direction: one color. Hopefully you now see some of the potential benefits and downsides of going this route. If you have a story about a cool mono-color limited deck, be sure to let me know! I’ll see y’all later!