Color Identity

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Color identity is a unique rule of the Commander format that dictates which colors and cards can be put into an EDH deck based on the commander that leads it. Color identity is one of the most unique things about the format, and the color identity one chooses for their deck will affect how that deck is built, which tools it has access to, and its strengths and weaknesses.

Rules

Color identity is a rule of Commander that every card follows. The color identity of a card is determined from any mana symbol or color identifier that appears in the card's mana cost or card text, excluding reminder text. All cards in a Commander deck must fall within the color identity of its commander. For example, a commander like Zurgo Helmsmasher can only play cards that have a red, white, or black color identity, and cannot play any cards with blue or green in their color identity. Multicolor cards are considered the color identity of each color featured on the card, so a Zurgo Helmsmasher deck cannot run Izzet Charm, but can run Boros Charm

Here are some other scenarios which color identity affects:

  • Any mana symbols in card texts, excluding reminder text, count towards color identity.
Example: Avacyn’s Pilgrim has a color identity of Green and White.
  • Color indicators on cards with no mana cost also count as color identity.
Example: Ancestral Vision has a color identity of blue.
  • Colorless mana symbols or generic mana symbols have a color identity of colorless and can see play in any deck.
Example: Warping Wail has a color identity of colorless.
  • Hybrid mana costs have the color identity of both colors in the hybrid symbol, even if only one color is used to cast them.
Example: Augury Adept has a color identity of blue and white.
  • Lands have the color identity of whatever mana they produce, plus whatever mana symbols are on the card. This includes basic lands.
Example: Flamekin Village has a color identity of red.
  • Cards that mention colors without having a mana symbol in the mana cost or text do not have the mentioned color as part of their color identity.
Example: White Knight has a color identity of White, even though the word "Black" is on the card.
  • Cards that mention land types, such as swamp, do not have the color identity of the mentioned basic.
Example: Boil has a color identity of Red, even though the word Island appears on the card.
  • Cards that feature a mana symbol in reminder text do not have the color identity of that symbol. Reminder text is in parenthesis and in Italics.
Example: Crypt Ghast has a color identity of Black, even though it has a hybrid White mana symbol in reminder text.
  • Any rules text that states a card is certain colors makes that card the color identity of those colors.
Example: Sphinx of the Guildpact has a color identity of all five colors.

Color Identity vs Card Color

Color identity is only a feature of deckbuilding, and not a strict feature of gameplay. Importantly, a card's color identity is not the same as the card's color. For example, General Tazri's color is white, but her color identity includes all five colors. A player using her as their commander may tap a a Command Tower or Arcane Signet for any color of mana. However, she would not be able to be destroyed by a Pyroblast, because she is not a blue permanent.

Choosing a Color Identity

There are several factors to keep in mind when picking a color identity for a deck.

Commander

The thing that will most often push a deck into a specific color identity is its commander. Any Commander-Centric deck will leverage a unique build around its commander, prioritizing that commander's abilities and choosing cards that fit within its color identity to support it. Commander-Agnostic decks, by contrast, may choose the cards they want to play in their deck from among whichever colors they wish to use, and then choose a commander afterward with a color identity that allows them to play those cards in those colors.

Specific Cards

Though not as common, some decks are built around unique cards such as Villainous Wealth, and therefore need color identities that can accommodate these cards. Sometimes key cards will also dictate the type of support needed from the rest of the deck to enable that card to shine. A deck built around Master of Waves, for instance, will benefit strongly from mono-blue support, whereas whereas a deck built around Knight of New Alara may want as many colors as possible to help support it.

Tribal Synergies/Members

Decks built around a particular creature type need a color identity that has access to a sufficient number of creatures of that creature type. Some tribes, like Minotaurs tribe, are mostly found in the Rakdos color combination, which makes it a more appealing color identity for the tribe than other color combinations. Other tribes, like Dragons tribe, may be more spread out among the color pie, so these tribes may have a greater number of optimal color identities.

Strategy

Certain colors work better for some strategies and archetypes than others. A deck based around instants and sorceries will benefit far more from access to Red and Blue, but not from a creature-heavy color such as Green. Some archetypes may also need multiple colors to function at their best. A Blink deck, for example, may utilize White's many cards that briefly exile creatures, such as the card Cloudshift, but also utilize needs Blue’s many creatures with appealing enter-the-battlefield triggers, like Mulldrifter. Adding more colors may give decks access to more synergistic cards, but fewer colors can help tighten the focus of a deck's strategy.

Removal

No individual color can handle every threat. Red, for example, cannot remove enchantments. Therefore, some players may choose a commander that includes more colors in their color identity, such as green, which has access to enchantment removal that will solve red's shortcoming. Some players may opt for commanders with more diverse color identities to access cards that shore up the built-in weaknesses of other colors.

Speed

Some color identities have tools to end the game quicker than others. For example, a deck that wants to end the game quickly can take advantage of red’s early-game power and high damage output, while a deck that wishes for a slower or more methodical approach may benefit from the long-term card advantage or counterspells available in blue.

Consistency

Adding more colors to a deck also means having to add lands that can make mana of that color. Mana-fixing for multiple colors can be a very tricky task, occasionally resulting in players unable to cast spells because they do not have access to the colors of mana they need. Meanwhile, mono-color or two-color decks are subject to less variance and are more likely to acquire the color of resources they need. This can encourage deckbuilders to play fewer colors, rather than more of them.

Budget

Mono-color decks are generally less expensive to build than decks with lots of colors. Decks with many colors may require more lands that will help them gain reliable access to the colors they need, and these types of cards can become expensive. Some players may therefore choose to build decks with fewer colors, which still allows their strategy to be consistent and powerful.

Color Identity options

Colorless

Ms c 128.png
Colorless is a very unique color identity. Commanders with no colors in their color identity only allow a deck to run colorless cards, which is a very small card pool, mostly consisting of artifact cards. These decks do not have to worry about mana-fixing, which can make them very consistent, but also lose access to a lot of tools that other colors provide.
Approximately 1% of Commander decks built have a colorless identity.

Mono-Color

Mono-color decks are the most consistent set of color combinations, with many options for commanders. A deck with a mono-color color identity has a limited available card pool, but will also commonly lean into a unique strength of that particular color. However, mono-color decks may also fall into the built-in weaknesses of their color, such as lacking removal for certain card types.
Approximately 20% of Commander decks have a mono-color identity.
Ms w 128.png White
Ms u 128.png Blue
Ms b 128.png Black
Ms r 128.png Red
Ms g 128.png Green

Two Allied Colors

Ally-color pairs are made of two colors who share similar philosophies, aligning closely with each other on the color pie, and which tend to have common gameplay overlaps. This grouping of commanders tends to have one of the widest pools of available commanders to choose from.
Approximately 35% of all Commander decks have a two-color color identity.
Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.png Azorius
Ms u 128.pngMs b 128.png Dimir
Ms b 128.pngMs r 128.png Rakdos
Ms r 128.pngMs g 128.png Gruul
Ms g 128.pngMs w 128.png Selesnya

Two Enemy Colors

An enemy color pair is made of two colors who sit opposite of each other in the color pie, and whose philosophies do not commonly align.
Approximately 35% of all Commander decks have a two-color color identity.
Ms w 128.pngMs b 128.png Orzhov
Ms u 128.pngMs r 128.png Izzet
Ms b 128.pngMs g 128.png Golgari
Ms r 128.pngMs w 128.png Boros
Ms g 128.pngMs u 128.png Simic

Three-Color Shards

The three-color combinations known as 'shards' are comprised of a single color that has been combined with its two allied colors. They derive their name from the Shards of Alara block.
Approximately 30% of Commander decks have a three-color color identity.
Ms g 128.pngMs w 128.pngMs u 128.png Bant
Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs b 128.png Esper
Ms u 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs r 128.png Grixis
Ms b 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs g 128.png Jund
Ms r 128.pngMs g 128.pngMs w 128.png Naya

Three-Color Wedges

Three-color 'wedge' combinations are comprised of a single color that has been combined with its two enemy colors, which sit opposite from it in the color pie.
Approximately 30% of Commander decks have a three-color color identity.
Ms w 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs g 128.png Abzan
Ms u 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs w 128.png Jeskai
Ms r 128.pngMs w 128.pngMs b 128.png Mardu
Ms b 128.pngMs g 128.pngMs u 128.png Sultai
Ms g 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs r 128.png Temur

Four-Color

While other color combinations may be defined by a color's strengths or philosophies, four-color decks are more commonly understood in relation to the color they lack. For instance, the color white places an emphasis on order and stability, where a whiteless deck is likely to contain aspects of chance or randomness.
Approximately 6% of EDH decks are four-color.
Ms u 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs g 128.png Glint-Eye (Whiteless)
Ms w 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs g 128.png Dune-Brood (Blueless)
Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs g 128.png Ink-Treader (Blackless)
Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs g 128.png Witch-Maw (Redless)
Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs r 128.png Yore-Tiller (Greenless)

Five-Color

Ms w 128.pngMs u 128.pngMs b 128.pngMs r 128.pngMs g 128.png
Five-color decks have access to every card in Magic and therefore the widest range of cards and potential strategies to choose from. Five-Color decks may occasionally struggle with consistency with mana-fixing. With an unrestricted card pool, Five-Color decks may also have more difficulty condensing their decks to focus upon a specific strategy.
Around 8% of decks have a color identity that contains all five colors.