Dominaria United Painbow Precon Upgrade Guide

Dominaria United: Painbow Precon Upgrade Guide

Tom AndersonCommander, Strategy

Dominaria United is bringing Commander back to the home plane of Magic at last, with its deep wellspring of legacy characters and lore references stretching back almost 30 years. It’s appropriate, then, that the primary commander choice for today’s Painbow precon upgrade guide is also making his triumphant return after a prolonged absence:


Once upon a time, people were critical of Planeswalker commanders for fear that their high-impact abilities would take over the game. But the format has come a long way since then, and I think our king here is actually one of the more agreeable takes on a five color, value commander we’ve seen.

The growing trend has been for 5C commanders to derive that identity from their rules text, in order to make them castable more consistently without a millionaire mana base. But look at what this ends up doing to their play patterns. 

Having such a hefty ability cost (or in Kenrith’s case, such a heft of different abilities) means these activated effects must be extremely impactful. You end up with my least-favorite kind of commander — one who essentially becomes your game plan and sole mana-sink every time they’re on the board. This also draws hate from opponents because “every Golos deck feels like every other Golos deck.” The cards in the 99 just don’t matter enough.

That’s a lot of words to devote to what Jared Carthalion isn’t, but I think it’s necessary context for appreciating this card. All his abilities are strong, both in a vacuum and in the context of your average rainbow, goodstuff pile. But being limited to a single activation per turn (in most cases) means he’ll always need co-stars. 

I also very much admire the decision to not give him any game-ending or emblem-creating ultimate ability. Having your commander read as a constantly ticking time-bomb makes everybody’s decision making feel a lot more forced, and is basically what the original ‘Walker-commander doubters were concerned about.

As it is, Jared’s loyalty costs end up being perhaps a little too heavy for my liking, but the mix of board presence and on-demand resource generation is an ideal blend, giving him personality while propping up basically any strategy that plays multicolored cards. 

Generic isn’t always a design critique, either — especially when half the fun of 5c deck construction is just jamming together every card you think looks cool without a second thought for synergy or mana curves. Let the wise leadership of King Carthalion unite them under one banner!


One of the biggest selling points of any Commander precon deck is the new unique cards (and occasional noteworthy reprint) they bring to the format. So, I like to highlight them in this part of the review — both to understand their role in the deck as provided and to consider their value to experienced players who might want to pluck them out for use elsewhere:

Fallaji Wayfarer

From a design perspective, this might be my favorite card in the deck. Convoke is in my top 3 mechanics of all time, rewarding creature decks for committing to the board. The decision to directly define a card’s color identity in rules text is also an exciting precedent. In practice, it turns your creatures into mana dorks and pushes the idea of many-colored cards. On-theme!

Jenson Carthalion, Druid Exile

This oddly wuxia-looking druid is arguably a better synthesis of this precon’s themes than Jared, and I assume for many players their first act upon cracking the deck will be to swap this into the Command Zone. If you prefer not to play a Planeswalker there, or if you just want something easier to cast, I think it’s a great call.

Primeval Spawn

As one person sharing this spoiler remarked: “damn, they really don’t want you to cheat this in!” But Wizards of the Coast’s caution is obviously justified. If this were legendary, we’d have yet another spotlight-hogging 5c commander on our hands. As it is, your mini-game here is to throw a piñata at your opponents until they let you crack it open. Fingers crossed that what comes out was worth it!

Tiller Engine

This is a really useful engine. Like fan-favorite reprint Archelos, Lagoon Mystic, this appears to have been included to help numb the pain of budget 5c manabases and their many ETB-tapped lands. The ability to tap down opposing cards is more niche, but any tech which can turn a fetchland activation into meaningful interaction is worth keeping in mind.

Two-Headed Hellkite

I think it’s nice that we get a couple of deliberately uncomplicated (yet still powerful) options like this in precons nowadays. Given how much the deck as-provided loves 5C spells, a winged Divination is still enough power to justify itself at a casual table.

Iridian Maelstrom

Shout outs to the awesome lore payoff implied here, as well as to the interesting take on a board wipe. Tailor-made sweepers which become one-sided for your theme are among my favorite payoffs for a focused deck like this, and the fact we have a Planeswalker commander (who cares about multicolored spells!) gives it even more upside.

Unite the Coalition

It’s no Coalition Victory — or even a Last Stand — in terms of raw impact, but Unite the Coalition does offer us a “Confluence” style value package at instant speed, and that’s appreciable when we’re hungry for anything 5C. The instant part does lose some value when the rest of the deck is all about slamming big permanents, but our good mana dorks should help us hold this up later in the game.

Obsidian Obelisk

In a deck packed with splashy, flashy spells there has to be something dull and stable propping it up. Commander as a format could do without a constant flood of A-grade mana rocks, but this one seems to land in the ideal space where it’s above-grade for our specific niche and mediocre elsewhere.

Mana Cannons

Not the most elegant multicolor payoff in the deck, but certainly among the most effective! I do really like that this scales with the number of colors your spell is without demanding it to be specifically all colors. I’m surprised more of the precon cards aren’t worded like this. 

Anyway, this effect can be anywhere from “cool” to “game-endingly oppressive” if your table cares about keeping utility creatures in play.


OK, say you’ve bought the deck and played it once or twice as-provided. What next? 

As is standard for present-day precon decks, this one is a fairly complete decklist on its own terms. Almost every card is clearly aligned with the common theme, and Wizards has made sure to provide the kind of ramp and card draw you need to fuel this kind of classic battle-cruiser strategy.

I will say, though, that the overall power of this deck is capped a bit lower than most, especially with Jared Carthalion at the helm. It makes sense to me why the design was done this way, as we’re certainly not short on S-tier 5C commanders. But the emphasis on playing specifically 5C cards runs into the same fundamental issues that have kept Wizards from doing rainbow precons in the past. 

The 5C land base, despite strong efforts here, is going to be a lot weaker than other decks get for the same dollar investment. It’s also a costly theme in terms of mana, seeing as every WUBRG spell costs at least five mana to cast. Sticking Jenson Carthalion in the Command Zone (or even Golos or Ramos) will help make up the gap, but probably not completely. 

As such, the boring, sensible upgrade for this precon is almost certainly to take your $50 or $100, and plow it into buying fetch lands, shock lands and 5C lands like Mana Confluence or City of Brass, which ETB untapped. However, not everybody plays Commander to be boring and sensible in their deckbuilding! So, let’s look at what you can do to improve your spell selection instead. 


If you want to stick with the commander and theme we’ve got, then my first recommendation is to focus on what those do well. Jared’s abilities lend themselves to a “domain zoo” style beatdown plan more than pure greed and big spells, so I’d be looking for cards which help us make combat a real threat to opponents. 

Luckily, this aggro theme is back in vogue, getting support from both Modern Horizons 2 and Dominaria United. Our fetchland-heavy mana base is carefully set up to help us put all five land types into play ASAP, which helps us utilize everything from Territorial Kavu to Scion of Draco to Radha’s Firebrand

There’s a limit to how much efficient stats can achieve in multiplayer commander, so we should also keep an eye out for powerful “force multipliers” like Saskia the Unyielding or Gahiji, Honored One. Earnest Fellowship is risky if you’re not poised to end the game soon, but incredibly powerful given our 5C theme.

As for what to cut, I would definitely start by eyeing up the assorted legendary reprints hanging around the margins of this precon. Cards like Zaxara, the Exemplary and Xyris, the Writhing Storm are fun in their own niches, but they’re too expensive and too tangential to our game plan to keep around for long. Other legends like Atla Palani, Archelos and Selvala may be more relevant to what we’re doing, but are still expensive utility we can potentially drop the more we aim to be lean and mean in the red zone.

As you gradually ratchet up the power and narrow the focus of the deck, you’ll eventually reach a decision point regarding weaker 5C cards like Fusion Elemental and Transguild Courier. These are way below-grade for Commander on their face, so their inclusion is wholly dependent on how much reward you’re getting from their 5C nature. 

Personally, I think you’d be better off making your other creatures five-colored with something like Scuttlemutt, especially if you’re not putting Jenson and his cast trigger in the command zone. I doubt many of you will shed a tear when replacing vanilla creatures with more dynamic cards anyway.

Here’s my shortlist of noteworthy upgrade options, divided by price point rather than card function. If you’re picking exclusively from this list, make sure you lean towards the cheap creatures, as the base precon isn’t structured with an aggro deck’s curve:


Territorial Kavu, Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, Gahiji, Honored One, General Ferrous Rokiric, Radha’s Firebrand, Happily Ever After, Chamber Sentry, Samite Elder, Bound//Determined, Swirling Spriggan


Moonveil Regent, Conqueror’s Flail, Earnest Fellowship, Prismatic Ending, Saskia the Unyielding, Leyline Binding, Defiler of Souls, Spirit of Resistance, Scion of Draco, Urza’s Filter


Bloom Tender, Crystalline Crawler, Prismatic Omen, Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient, Crescendo of War, Ramos, Dragon Engine, Akroma’s Will, Dream Halls, Najeela, the Blade-Blossom, Chromatic Orrery


Building an aggressive “domain zoo” style deck is far from the only path to take with a precon like this, especially if you’ve got a budget or large singles collection to help with the manabase. But once we broaden our focus beyond the natural deckbuilding constraints of creature beatdown, it becomes harder for me to give any specific advice or direction to the 5C deckbuilder.

It also becomes harder to justify Jared Carthalion as a commander, unless you’re specifically trying to avoid the toxic play patterns of other 5C good stuff legends. The other synergistic path to take him is a 5C “superfriends” deck, which plays as many planeswalkers as possible. But despite being a Planeswalker himself, he’s still something of a compromise option for that deck.

If you’re aiming to max out on greedy, splashy, battlecruiser Magic, then I recommend taking your notes from Ramos, Dragon Engine players. Ramos itself makes an excellent commander if you’re willing to embrace the “embarrassment of riches” playstyle, or it is perfectly satisfactory in the 99.

Jodah, Archmage Eternal is a slightly more restrained choice, which I think slots very neatly into Jared’s seat on the throne, rewarding your commitment to five colors without forcing you to choose from the short list of actual WUBRG spells.

End step

At the end of the day, the wide-open, anything-goes nature of 5C piles is what draws people to play them, and the correct card choices are generally going to be “whatever sweet rares I can’t find a home for anywhere else!” 

I strongly recommend embracing that urge and using this precon’s strong underpinnings to showcase your favorite cards and mechanics in the classic spirit of casual Commander — all under the gaze of King Carthalion.