By Michael Quinton
I spend a lot of time thinking about decks I’d like to build or decks that I think I could make improvements on. I make the changes or sleeve the deck up and begin testing only to find that it doesn’t run smoothly. The curve is good and the cards have good synergies, but it isn’t flowing the way I’d hoped. I test another 10 games and each time I find that I’m either not casting my gold cards on the turn they’re meant for or not able to cast two similarly colored, low cost spells late game. With a deep sigh and a slight whimper I clear off my whiteboard and turn on my computer, opening an Excel spreadsheet.
Working with your mana base isn’t fun for everyone and I’m no exception. I love math, numbers, and magic so I should be thrilled at an exercise that utilizes all three, but I always find myself frustrated more often than not. Unfortunately for you and me there really aren’t any great secrets to building an effective mana base, just the ability to feel that it still isn’t right when playing the deck. There are some tools and methodologies that I use that you might find helpful or at least a way to start your mana base off.
First and foremost I want all who read to understand that ultimately it will come down to many hours of test playing to get the mana base to precisely the right spot. Theory and methods are fine, but are no substitute for the ability of a person to sense when something is wrong with the deck and use their test playing to narrow it down to that particular pain, filter, or even basic land and correct it. This article is not an end all in mana base design but should get you fairly close to where you want to be. Don’t think that this will be all for naught though, because in the end the feeling of a perfectly tuned mana base can be the equivalent of defeating a truly dominating opponent.
One of the first techniques I use when building a deck from scratch is to write out the mana cost, including colorless, of every card with a number out to the side for multiples. For cards with hybrid mana symbols put a slash between the first and second part of the payable mana. Example:
(Key – B = Black, G = Green, W = White, U= Blue, # = Colorless)
G – 4
BGW – 4
GW – 3
1 G/W G/W – 2
G – 4
1GWU – 3
GWU – 4
BW – 4
1 G/W G/W G/W – 4
3 – 1
1 B – 3
W – 2
I then take each color and add each instance that it appears to generate total mana symbols within the deck. Which using the above example our break down would be: (Note that in the case of a hybrid mana symbol only add half to each of the colors it could be. So if you have G/W G/W you add one to green and one to white. In the case of colorless mana count 3 cards with a cost of 3 colorless mana as 9 symbols)
G – 30
B – 11
W – 28
U – 7
# – 15
So we definitely have a Green/White deck splashing Black and Blue. So we have a 38 card main deck minus the land, with 91 mana symbols total. Green makes up 32.9% of our deck, with white coming in just behind at 30.7%. Black makes up about 12.1% of our mana base and blue round it out at 7.7%. Now there’s no reason to include colorless as a percentage as everything can be used for it. But we need to get accurate percentages and they do count towards are overall mana symbols.
Using only basic land at this point our mana base, which we have 22 slots for, should look something like the following: (rounding accordingly)
3 To be Determined
Know we want to look at the value of each of the colors to determine where to put the last three lands. This is really done based of your valuation of each card and how bad you want to cast it. I would say that blue is under funded with only 2 available to the deck, so I would add one to that plus two more to the swamp count. So we should now have a list that looks more like this:
This should allow for smooth draws of the colors we need most often and let us hit the colors we only sometimes need at some point during the game.
Now this isn’t obviously going to work for competitive magic as we don’t only want to be casting our spells sometime during the game but rather when we want to cast them. So fortunately for us there are multicolor producing lands available. Some of your options here are to trade a forest for a card like Murmuring Bosk that produces green but also taps for white and black for 1 point of damage. This while not altering your land count would impact your ability to produce white and black mana. Simply by making this change if you were to look at each lands mana production we would have this breakdown.
7 lands produce green
11 lands produce white
9 lands produce black
3 lands produce blue
By adding in multicolor producers like Bosk we are able to alter the percentages of the deck favorably. We will be more likely to be able to produce white while not altering the number of slots we allotted for green. This should in the end increase the availability of all our colors as we look at what we are trading to be able to do so.
What we want to do is weigh out our ability to take pain and deal with Comes-Into-Play-Tapped lands while providing the most access to our colors. I wont go into a lot of detail in this article on how to evaluate out CIPT and Pain as it pertains more to the deck itself as opposed to the mana base. So we use our base of 7/7/5/3 to force as much access across the board while still providing the correct percentages for our deck. The final mana base for this deck ended up being able to produce the following:
18 lands that produce green
13 lands that produce white
11 lands that produce black
7 lands that produce blue
So when looking at the end result of total available mana (49) our out percentages are:
Green – 36.7% of the available mana production
White – 26.5% of the available mana production
Black – 22.4% of the available mana production
Blue – 14.2% of the available mana production
So the mana base has been able to increase all mana production colors by at least 5% and black by 10%. This should allow every card to be played when we need or want to play the card instead of when we are allowed to by the mana base.
This isn’t an end all as one of the lands used in the final build of the example deck was Ancient Ziggurat that cant’ be used except on creatures which is another drawback that has to be considered when selecting land but as with CIPT and pain lands that is for another time.
If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to comment, but please keep in mind this isn’t presented as an end all just an insight into how I get started. I used the Doran deck piloted by Brian Robinson as the deck for the mana base in my example as it is one that is moderately complex. I didn’t design the mana base but it was similar to a build that I have been working on and it matched up fairly well to that. Hopefully in a future article if you would like I can follow up on the evaluating of the various drawbacks lands can have and how to navigate the choices.