Let’s paint a picture: imagine you’re drafting Throne of Eldraine and have a nice W/B knights deck coming along. You got an Oathsworn Knight as your pack one rare and were somehow passed a Worthy Knight during your second pack! Everything seems to be going well, but when you open up your third pack, you see it: Garruk, Cursed Huntsman!
You’re over the moon to see him appear as your rare in your third pack! But there’s a problem: Garruk needs green mana! Without some adjustments, Garruk isn’t going to fit into the deck you’ve spent such time and effort into carefully crafting. Do you take him anyway and find a way to jam him in? Or do you pass him along and pick up something with more synergy with your deck?
This is a choice many Magic players are often dealt with during a night of limited gameplay. Just when you think you have a very clean and clear cut strategy coming along, you either open or get passed an incredible off-color bomb that forces you to reconsider how your deck may aim to win. The concept of adding said card to your deck is called splashing and is what we’ll aim to tackle today. We’ll go over what exactly splashing is, the pros and cons of it, and how to splash a color if you decide to do so.
What is Splashing?
Splashing a color in a limited setting is very simple: it is the act of adding one or two off-color cards to your deck with the aim of improving it in some way. Usually, you want your limited deck to be two colors but may sometimes be presented with one or two cards not in those colors that can really help your overall plan if you make some adjustments. Normally, the splashed card(s) isn’t one that synergizes with your deck but is a bomb of some kind that can help close a game (think less Aegis Turtle and more Archon of Sun’s Grace).
Furthermore, a splash is just that: a splash of another color in your deck other than your two established colors. Opinions differ on this, but a splash can safely be considered to be one to two mana symbols of a different color across multiple cards. For example, in an Ixalan draft, adding one Deathgorge Scavenger to a W/U deck is considered a splash while one Burning Sun’s Avatar is not.
I mean, seriously, look at that casting cost…
Lastly, it is best to only splash one color per deck. While cards like Hostage Taker may look good and most definitely is, it would not do much in a R/G deck. Hostage Taker requires two colors the deck doesn’t have readily available. The amount of working around that one card would require would cause significant sacrifices to the rest of the deck and will decrease its overall quality.
The Pros and Cons of Splashing
Before you begin to ask yourself the pros and cons of splashing a color, ask yourself this: what will this card or cards do for my ultimate goal? Does this help me win the game in any way? If the answer is no, then it is not worth splashing and you should stick to your original game plan. The costs will heavily outweigh the benefits and you will be losing more in the long run.
One of the pros of splashing a color to a limited deck is that it may add an element missing in your general plan. Adding a red burn spell to a G/W deck could add that last bit of damage needed to finish off an opponent, while maybe a big green creature put into a U/R list could provide you with some beefy haymaker your opponent wasn’t expecting.
Regardless of what it is, that small splash could shore up a deck’s weakness just enough to help you win the game. Another reason is the utility the card may bring on its own. A good example of this is Mystic Archaeologist from Core Set 2019. Here’s a picture of it just in case you forgot (I don’t blame you if you did):
On first glance, you can see that this card isn’t going to win you the game on its own, as it dies to literal anything. However, its ability to draw you two cards can close the game much quicker, as it can help you find bigger threats. While it may cost five mana to do so, its late-game power is strong enough that it may be worth putting into whatever deck if you think it can stomach it.
However, there is one major drawback to splashing any color in your deck: consistency. Magic decks can be fickle with what’s put into it and can either explode or flop depending on its makeup. A large part of the “make or break” nature of decks is the mana base. Lands are a crucial part of the game and having access to mana is arguably the most important things during a game of Magic. Running a mono-color deck is easy in terms of the mana base: all you need is one color. Two colors mean you must split the colors some way to be sure you can reliably cast your spells on curve as much as possible. Because of this, there is always a possibility that you don’t draw the land you need and have cards stranded in your hand. Adding a third color, even if it’s just one or two mana symbols, increases this problem exponentially. You will need to make room in your mana base to be able to cast your off-color spell(s) reliably. In doing so, however, you decrease the likelihood of drawing the lands you need consistently to play the rest of your deck. This means you are more likely, on average, to have initially dead cards in your hand than if you did not splash in any way.
How to Splash
If you have read this far and have still decided that splashing is a good idea for your deck, there are some guidelines you can follow for a more successful deck. These are not hard rules to follow but can serve as a template for whenever the situation arises. Here’s the general wisdom: a splash should have at least four mana sources to cover it. Now this may beg the question: what is a mana source? A mana source is just as it sounds: any card that produces mana in some way or another. Examples of mana sources include the obvious lands but also creature or artifacts that produce mana, such as Elvish Mystic or any of the lockets from Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, cards that can potentially untap mana sources like Arbor Elf and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, and cards that fetch lands such as Cultivate and Evolving Wilds. This means that you may not have to dilute your lands too much to include a splash but may cause you to pick up nonland cards to justify it. For example, if you wanted to add a white splash in a U/G deck in Masters 25, your four white mana sources could include one Cultivate, one Prophetic Prism, and two Plains. In this situation, you can always draw into your two Plains, produce white mana with the prism or go fetch them with Cultivate (the latter has the flexibility of getting other lands in case you already have all the white sources you need).
I hope this article has shed some light on the intricacies of splashing and shown you what to do when confronted with this dilemma! Splashing, though it can be helpful, isn’t for every deck, so you should carefully weigh your options to see if it’s right for you. I’ll catch y’all later!