The Metaworker – Let’s Talk Lands James LaPage May 31, 2017 The Metaworker Note: For this article I will be using the term “budget” quite a bit. I’m defining budget to mean no individual land over $15, and going cheaper whenever possible. Good mana bases are expensive (my 2-colour competitive mana base is just a hair under $1600USD), and operating according to these budget guidelines means you’re spending a fraction of that. I know this is still more than a lot of people are looking to spend, but this article is intended to demonstrate why good mana bases are important, and incidentally also demonstrates the reasons why lands that make up a good mana base are generally expensive. When people come to me for deck advice, after I riffle through their deck I separate out all the lands. I split the land pile into basics and nonbasics and talk to them a little bit about what’s going on. Lands are some of the most important resources in Magic, and so I wanted to carve out a bit of time to talk about the things I see people doing, and what they mean. If you haven’t read How Many Colored Mana Sources do You Need to Constistently Cast Your Spells by Frank Karsten, you should go do that before continuing with this article. If you’re not a math kind of person, skip to the part titled “The Numbers” and we can operate under the assumption that the math checks out. I know not everyone is going to find this article as interesting as I do, but Frank touches on some really important points. He’s even been kind enough to include 99-card decks in his coloured mana source tables! For those of you who didn’t read the article at all, or just skimmed over it, there are a few key points he makes: Coloured mana sources are important The number of coloured mana sources in your deck determines how likely you are to be in a position to cast a given spell on a given turn Odds of drawing your coloured mana sources are determined by hypergeometric distribution This mathematical concept described here is likely where the “40 lands less 1 for every 2 mana rocks” nugget of wisdom comes from. People are counting a mana rock as half a coloured mana source, assuming they want to be able to hit their first 5 or so land drops, and they arrive at 40 sources without putting too much further thought into it. TappedOut has a great function that works some of this out for you for each card in your deck. Click the “Card Odds” button and it will give you a breakdown of how likely you are to have any given card at any given point in the game. You can also get a “by the eye” feel for it by using the “Draw Sample Hand” button, which is a quick-and-dirty way to get an idea of how your early game is likely to look. Why do I look at the lands first? Simply put, looking at your mana base gives you a good concept of whether you’ll be able to execute your game plan. You could have made excellent deckbuilding decisions at every step of the deckbuilding process for your nonland spells that get completely invalidated by poor choice of lands. What makes a good land base? From a competitive EDH perspective, a competitive mana base should have the following characteristics: Ramp where possible Some lands tap for more than one mana! This is awesome when you can get it if the downside isn’t too big. Provide freedom to cast appropriate spells at all points along the curve Here’s where mana symbols and Frank’s math come into play. Fixing is important. Don’t kill your tempo Plenty of things you can do in multiplayer create card disadvantage and tempo loss already. You don’t need this from your land base, and fortunately it’s not necessary at all, even on a budget. Provide some utility if appropriate. There are a lot of great utility lands out there. Picking the right ones for your commander can be really tricky. How necessary is 5-colour fixing? The short answer is “not super necessary at all” for most decks operating on a budget. If you’re optimizing your deck for competitive play, you’ll want a couple 5-colour fixing slots in your land base for 3-colour, and at least a few slots devoted to it in 4-, and 5-colour decks. For mono- and 2-colour decks, you probably don’t need to devote any slots at all. How necessary is 3-colour fixing? Here we’re talking about the Shards of Alara and Khans of Tarkir, ETB tapped lands that tap for one mana of any of three colours. In my opinion, these are just okay in 4- and 5-colour decks in place of more expensive upgrades, and I would say they’re marginally better than a basic land if your meta doesn’t run a lot of nonbasic land hate. In 3-colour decks I think you’re better served by a combination of the various 2-colour fixing options that are available to you. If you’re tuning your deck for competitive play these are going to get cut pretty quick, but this is one of the few instances where you’ll hear me say that an ETB tapped land is fine. How necessary is 2-colour fixing? This is really the bread and butter of mana fixing in any deck. There are so many 2-colour options, and it seems like we get more with every set. The great news there is that the newer ones are still fairly inexpensive, and some of them are actually quite good if you’re on a budget. In a perfect world, most multi-colour land bases will start out looking like this (with a little tuning if the colour split of the deck is uneven): All on-colour fetchlands (7 for 2-colour decks, 9 for 3-colour, and all 10 for 4- and 5-colour decks) All on-colour ABUR duals (1 for 2-colour, 3 for 3-colour, 6 for 4-colour, and all 10 for 5-colour. All on-colour shock lands (same numbers as for ABUR duals) All on-colour pain lands (same numbers as for ABUR duals) Command Tower The rest is going to vary based on how many colours you’re in, but in general you don’t need to go much deeper than this list unless you’re in 4- or 5-colour identities. If you’re on a budget, I would look to these cycles for budget 2-colour replacements: Kaladesh fast lands Check lands BFZ dual lands Amonkhet cycling lands The BFZ and Amonkhet dual lands have the advantage of powering up your fetches in almost the same way ABUR duals do. The check lands and fast lands technically ETB tapped, but have conditions that are easy enough to meet in 2- and 3- colour decks that they’re sometimes just as good (without being fetchable). What about filters? I used to recommend filters quite a bit, until quite recently when someone pointed out that they’re really not that cheap anymore. Filters do a great job of making cards with heavy coloured mana requirements (like Necropotence) more accessible in 3+ colour decks. There are some close-to-optimal mana bases that look at filters from time-to-time, but I think they’re a little overpriced at the moment for the marginal improvement they might provide to the decks that want them. How good are fetch lands? In short, when they’re run in a perfect land base, fetch lands are among the most powerful lands available in EDH. They get better as you run more fetchable targets (as every tutor does), so if you’ve got the maximum number of ABUR and shock lands your deck can run, drawing a fetch land actually becomes better than drawing any of its potential fetch targets. This is because the fetches offer you flexibility in fetching multiple different colour pairs depending on what the situation calls for. In Magic, having options is having power over your opponents. As you get into topdeck manipulation like Sylvan Library, Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, scry effects, and Ponder/Preordain/Brainstorm, the fetch lands have added functionality of serving as on-command shuffle effects that allow you to ship undesirable cards in exchange for fresh and hopefully useful top-decks. Khans fetch lands are still cheap despite being a couple years out of print, and Zendikar fetch lands are at their lowest in recent memory on the heels of a Modern Masters 2017 reprint. If you are at all considering tuning up your land base and you don’t already own a one-of set, now is the best time to buy these cards. How should I prioritize acquiring these lands? If you’re looking to slowly acquire lands over time, I would prioritize land acquisition in this order: Shocks Checks / Fast lands / BFZ lands Cheap Fetches Expensive Fetches ABUR Duals Land bases in the wild In this article I’d like to address a few things that I see in commander decks quite a bit. I’m going to use some competitive deckbuilding concepts to suggest some ways to improve consistency of your deck, even if you don’t play in a competitive meta. Buckle up, because we’re all guilty of at least a few of these. Rupture Spire and Transguild Promenade I was pretty tempted to make this the only topic in this article, because wow are these lands bad. They’re absolutely everywhere because WOTC leans on them in multicolor precons for budget fixing. Don’t fall for it. These lands look super tempting because they tap for mana of any colour, but they’re a trap. In all potential applications, these are worse than basic lands – even in a 5-colour deck. They are a massive tempo sacrifice for the modest upside of fixing, and they don’t ramp. If you’re running a precon, unsleeve these two lands and head to the land station at your LGS for a free upgrade. If you’re set on using these slots for 5-colour fixing and are on a budget, I would recommend the following: Note: It should go without saying, but Spire of Industry and Ancient Ziggurat are only good in their respective decks Try to avoid selling your lands when you take apart old decks! This is something I used to do when I was first starting out in EDH. If I was scrapping an old deck, I would sell the money cards and use the proceeds to build a new deck. I thought this was being prudent, but if there’s even a sliver of a chance that you’ll ever build something in the same colour identity in the future, don’t sell your lands. Keep them as a one-of in your binder and it’ll mean savings and deckbuilding freedom down the road. Utility lands have to be pretty damn good to bump a basic land This is one of the more common things I see in commander decks. People pack their deck to the brim with cute utility lands to try to account for every “What if?” scenario. I’ve seen people run Drownyard Temple so they can eke out a little value in the event that they get milled. I’ve seen people run Academy Ruins because they want to be able to get back their Sol Ring in case someone Krosan Grips it. While it’s true that Academy Ruins is a great card, recurring moderate-value cards is not what it excels at. It excels at recurring cards that are central to your winning strategy like combo pieces, lock pieces, and high-impact bombs that make up for the fact that you’re missing a coloured land drop when you play this card. I would encourage you to go through each of your utility lands (ie. those that don’t tap for coloured mana) and ask yourself how much value you’re actually getting out of them. While you’re playing your games, each time you draw one, ask yourself if you’d rather have a random basic land at that exact point in the game. If you’re anything like me, the answer is going to be yes more often than it’s no. Reliquary Tower isn’t that good I used to run this in all of my decks. On the surface, it’s pretty great. You don’t even have to cast it, and it provides you with this great effect that frees you from the shackles of a hand size of 7 cards. The reality is, though, most decks are not designed to consistently sit around with more than 7 cards in hand. At some point you have to cast things, and if you’ve just drawn 8 cards you can probably stand to send a land or something low-impact to the bin without a second thought. The cost of running Reliquary Tower is the opportunity cost. It’s taking up a card slot that could be better utilized by something that will help you cast your spells instead of worrying about amassing a giant hand that you’ll never have to part with. Tempo is important / Just say no to ETBT Guildgates, karoos / bounce lands, creature lands, gain lands, and other lands that enter the battlefield tapped do more harm to their game than most people realize. These lands start out on turn 1 being some of the worst lands you could want in your opening hand, effectively putting you a full turn behind your opponents. As the game goes on they get slightly better, but by then your opponents have presumably parlayed their early game advantage into a dominant board state. For all the complaining I see about the “totally broken” tempo gains provided by Sol Ring and Mana Crypt (and let’s be clear, they are totally broken), I am totally floored when I see people defend ETB tapped lands as perfectly playable, despite the fact that they represent an incredibly similar tempo disadvantage. You have so many options now for 2-colour fixing that these should be much rarer in the wild than they are in practice. Card selection contributes to fixing If you’ve got access to blue, you’d be surprised how far Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm can take you in terms of smoothing out your early land drops. These cards may seem low impact on casual inspection, but I can’t count the number of games where I’ve been able to get by with 1 or 2 lands in my opening hand if it also includes a decent card selection spell. This is what Frank Karsten means when he says that scry can be considered a partial coloured mana source, because it contributes to being able to consistently cast your spells. These spells can be cast in the early game (often without taking a full turn off to do so), and helps you get to where you want to be, whether you’re playing competitive or casual games. Chromatic Lantern and Prismatic Omen This article isn’t about mana rocks, but I’m including Lantern because it’s something you can run to make up for a lack of fixing in your land base. I’ve played with it and without it, and as far as fixing goes Chromatic Lantern isn’t terrible. You can probably find a spot for it in your 5-colour non-competitive lists. I’d only run Prismatic Omen if you’re running it in a combo. Chromatic Lantern is getting a little on the expensive side as well, though, and it’s fairly bad as far as mana rocks go. If I had to choose between Chromatic Lantern and Commander’s Sphere, I would take Commander’s Sphere in just about every scenario. A final word The interesting thing about consistent mana is that it’s one of the few things that competitive and casual EDH players can agree on. Regardless of what your objective is – whether it’s storming out, establishing locks that make people wish they’d never learned how to play, or assembling an army of cat monkeys, it’s that we put spells in our decks because we want to cast them. Having a solid mana base allows you to do what your deck is designed to do, and generally results in more enjoyable games for everyone involved. If you’re in the market to spend money upgrading your decks, I firmly believe that improving the land base (if there’s room for improvement) should be your first step. That’s why it’s the first thing I look at when someone hands me their deck, because it’s pointless talking about spells we can’t cast. Next episode we’ll be talking about some ways that you can leverage your one-of playset of each of these expensive lands to increase you freedom to brew. As always, leave your comments below and let me know what you think! Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.