Monday, May 19, 2014

Mana Bases Part 1: RTR Block to THS Block Standard

It occurred to me that perhaps players could gain a little something from an article about creating a mana base for a deck. I don't necessarily consider myself an expert, however I know enough to build decks with a pretty decent mana base.

One thing to consider is that no matter how perfect you make your mana base, there will always be a time at some point where the deck gives you only one color (in a multicolor deck), always give you nonbasics, or always give you that one land color you have too many of but need one more of that other color. Hopefully I can help you with that.

PlainsIslandSwampMountainForest


In Standard, the deck options are limited. Sure you can have Devotion, Control, Midrange, Tribal, etc. with all kinds of deck types, but in this Standard environment, you're most likely to see one or two colors in a deck. Three gets complicated and can happen, but you are not as likely to see a three color deck then you are a single color or a two color deck. You also won't see a colorless deck. Five color decks do happen, but rarely and would probably be a Maze's End deck, but let's focus on one, two, and three color decks.

One Color

In a single colored deck, there are only a couple different lands you should run: Basic lands, and possibly Nykthos if you're going for several permanents. If we're talking only spells (as in red burn), then don't consider Nykthos.

Mountain  Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

You might be asking "What about scry lands?" or "What about other non-basics?" and my answer is sure, you could run a couple nonbasics...

Encroaching Wastes  Mutavault  Rogue's Passage

Are you talking about those non-basics? Encroaching Wastes, Mutavault, and Rogue's Passage are useful for sure, but in specific decks... Encroaching Wastes is decent land destruction, but you also lose a land in the process, plus you are assuming an opponent will definitely have non-basics, which on principle isn't a great idea. Rogue's Passage can be good, but also requires payment of four mana to make a creature unblockable. Sure, this could work great, but this is meant to be paired with Vraska for the assassin tokens. But if you're confident you'll pump out a ton of mana and can effectively use this to end games, go for it.

Mutavault is it's own special case. It's every land type. It is a 3/3 elemental with a single Master of Waves, it's some huge sliver if you have a sliver deck (which would probably be found in the two or three color category, by the way...), and it could even be a minotaur with haste and an additional boost. Minotaurs are probably going to be seen in a two color deck. They could operate on one color, but are most effective in two. Of course, Mutavault also works as a win condition when playing control. Wipe the board, hit opponent for two, rinse, repeat. So It has its applications, but it belongs mostly in multicolored decks. It can be in a single color deck, but it really depends on the deck.

Now about the scry lands... Sure, getting to scry is good, but in the first three turns, do you want to scry, or do you want to play the one and two-drop creatures in your hand? Scry lands slow you down. They tell you what the future could be, but in decks running a single color, these are relatively unnecessary to run.

Two Colors

In two color decks, you have basic land and you also have access to three different dual lands: Guildgates, Shocklands, and Scrylands.

Simic Guildgate  Sacred Foundry  Temple of Malady

You also have access to Mana Confluence and Thespian's Stage as options that can produce any color you desire essentially. (Honestly, I feel as if the name "Mana Confluence" better fits with Alara where all the mana colors collided during the Conflux event.)

Of course, for more budget options (other than guildgates), we have Shimmering Grotto, Transguild Promenade, and Unknown Shores.

Shimmering Grotto  Transguild Promenade  Unknown Shores

Shimmering Grotto and Unknown Shores both classify as filter lands as you can change any color of mana into any other color of mana. Transguild Promenade requires payment of one mana just to use it on your next turn. These are typically best used in limited events, but you could still use these in Standard decks that are either slower (in Transguild Promenade's case) or need cheap mana fixing.


Obviously shocklands are the first choice of everyone. Many people hated the introduction of tapped scrylands, but then you can look at how the price of Temple of Enlightenment and Temple of Malady shot up after they were released. People are starting to use them and since we may not get dual lands in the next year (it's unknown if we will or not, but many people have speculated that Wizards wants to slow down the Standard game which would require less dual color cards and lands), so it's possible scrylands are the only duals you'll see for the next year. Either way, scrylands make second on the list of "Everyone's Favorite Two Color Standard Lands."

This leaves us with guildgates. Very slow and all we had for W/U, U/R, R/B, B/G, and G/W (in case you don't know the lingo, W = white, U = blue, B = black, R = red, and G = green) other than the shock lands when Theros was released, so they were actually utilized and can be found in W/U control decks where having the mana in the first three turns doesn't actually matter that much and you only need four lands on your fourth turn for a Supreme Verdict. They aren't bad and it's good to have other duals available for formats like EDH, but we're only talking Standard today.

The others haven't made a big splash in Standard.

Thespian's Stage

Thespian's Stage was never a great card for Standard, and that's okay. Every set has cards designed for other formats in mind, and this just wasn't for Standard. I did try and use it in a a U/B deck that did not work so well and it had things like Realmwright and Artisan of Forms because why wouldn't you want 8 Nightveil Specters or 8 Desecration Demons in a deck? It was more as a mana fixer because I could make it another Watery Grave, make it that second basic land I needed, or even copy an opponent's land to cast a captured card using Nightveil Specter. Needless to say, it pretty much failed, but I did give it a try and the deck was a cool idea, it just didn't work well in the Standard environment.

Mana Confluence

Mana Confluence has dropped in price since release and that typically means there isn't demand for it and people don't need it in Standard. It's a good thing to have in Modern, but once again, this article is all about Standard land. Of course, Mana Confluence isn't so great because in the long run, say you're playing R/G Monsters and you are deciding between using Stomping Ground and Mana Confluence. If you have one in your opening hand and use it every turn for at least five turns, shocklands cost you only two life. Mana Confluence, on the other hand, will cost five life over the same period. So shcoklands definitely should be used over Mana Confluence, but it can still be used as maybe a one-of or if you want to splash another color without making it a true three color deck.

Three Colors

Speaking of Mana Confluence, there really isn't a better category to fit in Mana Confluence. The only thing is it is best to have something like a Nyx-Fleece Ram to offset the life loss. I'm saying Mana Confluence is great for three colors because while you do have shocklands and scrylands for the colors, Mana Confluence can give you any of the three colors on turn one. Sure you have to pay a life just to tap it for mana, but it gives you options and that's useful in the early game when you're deciding whether or not to mulligan based on land and card color distribution in your opening hand. Mana Confluence should set your mind at ease. Otherwise shocklands and basics should be the rest of your land. Maybe a couple scrylands can be thrown into the mix, but you should have at least one or two of each basic land.


Non-Land Mana Fixing

When you have other mana fixing, it typically comes in the form of creatures and artifacts. They can also come from a variety of sources like planeswalkers or even enchantments. Let's take a look at artifacts first...

Artifacts

There are several artifacts in the current Standard that are good mana rocks, and they typically cost three mana. Here are a few you might recognize:

Dimir Cluestone  Simic Keyrune  Darksteel Ingot

Cluestones, first of all, are the worst. They're relatively useless outside of Pauper, Cube, and Limited. It's a basic mana rock, but you can sacrifice it to draw a card. Okay, so card draw in any color deck, but compared to the Keyrunes that came before it, they're relatively useless.

Keyrunes are pretty sweet for a mana rock. Still not my first choice, but it can be useful. So, you have a mana rock, but it becomes a creature with some ability pertaining to their colors. Above you see the Simic Keyrune which becomes hexproof. Others have double strike, trample, first strike, lifelink, et cetera. It's nice to have a blocker that can also give you mana. Activate it, block a creature, tap it for mana, then use an instant like Giant Growth. Pretty useful...

Darksteel Ingot is useful. It can't be destroyed at all and can be used for any color of mana. This gets better than the others, but still, not much to talk about. Let's look at some more...

Springleaf Drum  Prophetic Prism

Springleaf Drum pretty much lets you tap creatures. It's a good use for the Inspired mechanic from Born of the Gods. Not much else I can say about this...

Prophetic Prism is okay, but is like Unknown Shores or Shimmering Grotto since you filter any color into another color. It is two mana card draw, though. I'd use this in a Pauper, Limited, or Cube though, but otherwise it is not great for Standard. Moving on...

Astral Cornucopia  Chromatic Lantern

So Astral Cornucopia is pretty great. Of course you'll have to pay 3 for it to get one charge counter, but with everything that doubles counters from the Return to Ravnica block, Astra Cornucopia can easily create a ton of mana.

Chromatic Lantern is a really awesome mana rock. Once you have it on the field, the colors that your land produces doesn't matter anymore, and that's pretty cool. I used this when the Innistrad Block was still in Standard for my Junk Deck and it worked well enough to stabilize my mana base.


So, let's go towards creatures, but to bridge the gap...

Opaline Unicorn

That's right, a mana rock that is also a 1/2 creature. It can't do much, but it can also act as a makeshift blocker. But let's look at some others...

Creatures

Elvish Mystic  Golden Hind

I'm not going to look at all of the creatures out there in this format, but we can take a look at what we have...

Elvish Mystic is your basic mana dork. It's cheap, it comes in on turn one, and it's a 1/1. It also only taps for one color.

Golden Hind is really terrible outside of Limited. It's the same as an Elvish Mystic but is just one point stronger in the power department for just one mana more. I'd really prefer it be a 2/2 if that's what we'll get, but oh well.

Manaweft Sliver  Sylvan Caryatid  Zhur-Taa Druid

Manaweft Sliver is great because it gives all your slivers the ability to tap for any color mana. Now this, Sylvan Caryatid, and Zhur-Taa Druid is how you do mana dorks that cost two mana.

Sylvan Caryatid is great. You can get any color mana and a 0/3 defender with hexproof for just two mana. This is the best two-drop mana dork in Standard.

Now, Zhur-Taa Druid is a different spin on it. It costs both green and red, produces only green, but deals one damage to opponents when tapped for mana. It's really quite useful, especially in a draft using two Dragon's Maze packs and one Theros pack.

Burning-Tree Emissary  Crypt Ghast

These two are special abilities. For instance, Burning-Tree Emissary is great for accelerating a R/G deck because you essentially cast this for free and go into another two-drop (or in many cases, another Burning-Tree Emissary).

Crypt Ghast is another experience in the way of boosting the amount of mana your swamps tap for. So, in a way, he's like a permanent High Tide for swamps. Which is cool for sure, but not the best for Standard.

The Bottom Line

In pretty much every deck, mana matters (in some non-Standard decks, not so much), and the explanations of land in that section should prove beneficial. In two color decks, go for 4 of the shocklands for that combination and 4 of the scrylands, then use basics. In single color decks, go for a Nykthos or two, and leave the rest as basic land. In three color decks, go for three of each shockland (for a total of 12), drop in maybe one of each scryland, a couple Mana Confluences, and round out with basic land. Of course Chromatic Lantern would be pretty useful for that too. Any deck running green should most likely have playsets of either Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, or both.

Depending on the deck, you'll want between 20 and 24 lands. Two colors can operate off of 20 lands, so base your amounts on that. As far as land goes, your mana sources should be relatively proportional to the colors you play. Let's consider a W/B deck for a second. Say you have 2/3 of the mana symbols in the deck are white and the rest are black. You have your four Temples of Silence and four Godless Shrines, and then 12 more lands left to reach the minimum of 20. White should obviously be 2/3 of the mana base, so 8 of the remaining 12 lands should be Plains with the other 4 being Swamps. It's that simple.

A different thing to consider is if you had a G/W deck with 2/3 of the mana symbols as white and the rest are green, but most of the green symbols are on cards like Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid. In this case, you might go for 6 basics of each color. It won't help you if you draw only Plains when you want to cast mana dorks to ramp your mana. This way you can cast five mana spells by turn 3. Therefore you need more of you land to be able to create the mana for your mana dorks.

Everything outside of that is pretty much fair game, and we won't even talk about Maze's End (do people even take that to tournaments anymore?), so I hope this has been some help for deciding mana bases.

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