With the abundance of nonbasic lands and powerful three-color cards in Standard, the construction of a good mana base has become quite a challenge. In this article, I will go over the advantages and disadvantages of various lands, provide some guidelines on how many colored sources you need, and illustrate my mana base construction approach with an example.
The Land Cycles in Standard
Let’s evaluate all of the available non-basic lands, assuming that we’re playing a three-color deck.
For three-color decks, the tri-lands are generally the best you can get. Each provides three painless colored sources, and there is simply no other land that can do that.
Hence, I start most of my three-color decks with four tri-lands. The only exception is if my deck contains zero or very few double-colored cards. In that case, I may be able to satisfy all of my mana requirements with Temples instead of tri-lands, which would provide some free scry value. But in a deck with one or more double-colored spells like Hero’s Downfall or Brimaz, King of Oreskos that are demanding on the mana base, I’ll almost always run four tri-lands.
Lands that offer a free scry are great, but you can only run so many lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Especially after adding four tri-lands, the space for Temples is limited. In my experience, a good number of Temples for most three-color decks is 5. I could see going down to 2-3 Temples (i.e., 6-7 tap-lands total) if you have a hyper-aggressive deck with few double-cost cards or a plethora of mana-fixing creatures, and I could see going up to 7-8 Temples (i.e., 11-12 tap-lands total) if you have a more controlling deck with double-cost requirements in all of your colors and no mana-fixing creatures. But for most decks, I’ve found that 4-6 Temples is the sweet spot.
I should note that scrying can also fix your mana. Scry 1 is almost like drawing a card if you’re looking for a specific source of mana. As a result, I tend to count 5 Temples as one additional colored source for my double-colored spells. So, if I have 4 Temple of Silence and 1 Temple of Malady, then I’ll count that as 6 black sources, 5 white sources, and 2 green sources for double-colored spells.
A free point of life here and there can help beat the red decks, but usually it’s less valuable than scry 1. So you need a very good reason to run these lands instead of Temples in a three-color deck.
In a two-color deck, however, they’re fine. Two-color decks don’t run tri-lands, so they have a little more space for tap-lands. And the additional mana fixing is especially valuable if you have cheap double-colored spells in both colors, e.g., Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Bile Blight. That said, I have yet to build a three-color mana base with these life-gain lands.
Evolving Wilds is way worse than a tri-land because it forces you to make a choice. For example, if your opening hand starts with Hero’s Downfall, Courser of Kruphix, and Wingmate Roc, then seeing three Sandsteppe Citadel as your next three cards will make you happy. With three Evolving Wilds, however, you’re still a long way off of assembling all of the required mana. Moreover, if you have both Evolving Wilds and fetchlands in your deck, you may run out of basics.
Consequently, I’d rather run an additional Temple over an Evolving Wilds in most of my decks, but there is one exception: Chained to the Rocks. I wouldn’t want to play this removal spell without at least 10-11 Mountains or lands that can fetch a Mountain. It can be hard to reach that number without Evolving Wilds.
They fix mana and they enter the battlefield untapped, but you’d rather not draw multiples and be forced to take 2 damage every time you cast a spell. As a guideline, I tend to run 3-4 pain lands in decks that include Mana Confluence and/or are controlling in nature, and I tend to run 5-6 pain lands in decks that don’t include Mana Confluence and/or are aggressive in nature. On average, I think that most of my decks include 5 pain-lands.
If you have to choose which pain-land to run, then favor the colors that you need on turns one or two. So, in a Temur deck with 4 Elvish Mystics, you want to add the complete playset of Yavimaya Coast before the first Shivan Reef.
Mana Confluence is like a pain land that is better at fixing mana at the cost of more pain. You really don’t want to draw multiples, so I’d recommend sticking to two copies per deck at most. And that’s for an aggressive deck with multiple cheap spells in various colors. (Think Elvish Mystic, Fleecemane Lion, Thoughtseize, Anafenza—that’s the type of deck where Mana Confluence shines.) Decks that are more controlling in nature and that lack Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth probably want zero Mana Confluence. The pain does add up.
Fetchlands are awesome. They fix your mana, they synergize with Courser of Kruphix, and they help with delve. Deck thinning is a really minor effect and not a good reason for inclusion, but having an untapped land that fixes your mana at the cost of only 1 life point is awesome.
Accordingly, I will often start a three-color wedge mana base with four fetchlands. The exception is when the mana base requires too many sources of the enemy color. Consider, for example, a Jeskai control deck with 24 lands and 4 Anger of the Gods. If you want to have at least 18 red sources in the deck, then you can only have 6 non-red lands. With that restriction, a configuration of 3 Flooded Strand, 1 Plains, 2 Island is probably better than 4 Flooded Strand, 1 Plains, 1 Island. After all, with the second configuration, you may run out of basics to fetch and won’t be able to fix double-blue for Dig Through Time.
As a general rule of thumb, to mitigate the risk of running out of basic lands, I would want to have at least 3 basic lands for my fetch-lands. If I run the full 4 fetches, then I’d like to have 4 basic lands if at all possible, but I’ll accept 3 if there’s really no other way.
You should be careful in counting your fetchlands as colored sources. A Plains is always a white source, but Windswept Heath is not because you have to make a choice. For example, if you draw Temple of Malady, Windswept Heath, and Windswept Heath, then you can cast Courser of Kruphix or Brimaz, King of Oreskos, but not both. Because of this, I generally count 4 Windswept Heath as 3 sources of green mana and 3 sources of white mana only, especially if I have both double-green and double-white cards in my deck.
Uh, no. We’re talking about Constructed-playable lands.
If I’m playing black, I’ll almost certainly add one Urborg. It helps fix for double-black cards like Hero’s Downfall, it allows Mana Confluence and fetchlands to produce mana without pain, and you can surprise your opponent with a turn-three Drown in Sorrow after a Forest, Plains, Fleecemane Lion start. Sometimes Urborg helps your opponent too, but you will usually reap more benefits yourself.
Most decks only want 1 Urborg, but decks that have many double-black cards, a large number of pain lands, and few 5-plus-cost cards may want a second copy. For those decks, the advantage of having a second Urborg to fix your mana may outweigh the risk of the legend rule getting in your way. If I have 2 Urborg in my deck, then I may count them as 3 black sources in total for my double-black spells.
All of these lands have their roles. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in particular is a centerpiece of green devotion decks, and they will usually run 3-4 copies depending on how easily they can gather devotion and how many mana sinks they have.
However, these lands don’t belong in three-color decks. You need to get enough colored sources in your mana base, and a colorless land doesn’t help at all.
These creatures are not as reliable as lands. Elvish Mystic and Rattleclaw Mystic easily fall to Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, Bile Blight, and more, and even Sylvan Caryatid can be taken out by Crackling Doom, Anger of the Gods, Nullify, or Thoughtseize.
Moreover, you do not always have the time to cast these cards on time. If you have an opening hand with Fleecemane Lion, Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and two lands, then you have to make a tough choice on turn two. Similarly, if you have an opening hand with Savage Knuckleblade, Mountain, Forest, and Wooded Foothills, and proceed to draw Rattleclaw Mystic on turn three, then you have to wait for another turn before you can tap the Mystic for blue.
So, the mana creatures count as partial colored sources only. I tend to count 4 Sylvan Caryatid as 2-3 colored sources of any color, and I tend to count 4 Rattleclaw Mystic as 1-2 colored sources of any color.
It helps fix your mana a little bit, but it’s not always reliable either. Assuming I have a reasonable land configuration, I tend to count 4 Satyr Wayfinder as 2 colored sources of every color.
Common Color Requirements
In this section, I’ll give some color requirements recommendations. Many of them are based on my analysis of how many colored sources you need to consistently cast your spells.
For a 2-drop, I prefer to have 14 colored sources. This may sound like a lot, but hitting your 2-drop can be such a boost toward winning a game in Standard that I want to ensure sufficient mana consistency here.
For 1-drops like Elvish Mystic or Thoughtseize, I’m also fine with 14 sources because you’ll frequently cast them on turn two. Many Standard games start with a tap-land on turn one, after all. However, I’ll still try to make the number of untapped turn-one sources for Elvish Mystic as high as possible.
For a gold 2-drop, I also want 14 colored sources of each of its colors, but additionally want a mana base where (assuming 24 lands total) there are at most 6 lands that can’t produce any of its colors. This is because a mana base with 14 Temple of Plenty and 10 Swamp will still have trouble casting Fleecemane Lion on turn two, but a mana base with 6 green/black duals, 6 white/black duals, 8 green/white duals, and 4 Swamps is perfectly fine.
For 3-drops, or four-drops in a deck with several mana-ramp creatures, I generally like to have at least 12-13 sources of each of its colors.
For the three-color gold cards, I try to impose an additional restriction because even though 12 Plains and 12 blue/red duals would satisfy the above requirement, you cannot cast Mantis Rider off of Plains, Plains, Temple of Epiphany. To mitigate this, I would like to have a mana base where (assuming 24 lands total) there are at most 7 lands that can’t produce white or red, at most 7 lands that can’t produce white or blue, and at most 7 lands that can’t produce blue or red. This is similar to the Fleecemane Lion restriction mentioned above. It rarely comes up in practice, but it’s good to keep in mind is that Mantis Rider can be more demanding on the mana base than the mere combination of Goblin Rabblemaster, Banishing Light, and Chasm Skulker.
For double-colored 3-drops, I prefer to have at least 18 colored sources. I may even go up to 19 for 2-drops like Bile Blight or Nullify if the mana base can allow it.
For double-colored 5-drops or 6-drops, you will have a few additional draw steps to find your mana, so I consider 15-16 colored sources to be sufficient.
By interpolation, 17 would be a good number for double-colored 4-drops, but Stoke the Flames is not your usual 4-drop. After all, red creatures also count as colored sources for the convoke spell. However, they also tend to die, so you can’t count them as full sources. I tend to count a red creatures as approximately 1/4 of a red source for Stoke the Flames.
Suppose we have a Kibler-esque deck with four copies of the following cards:
There’s also a stray Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, so we’ll run 23 lands. That’s a fine amount with so many mana dorks. What’s the ideal mana base?
The requirements are as follows:
14 green sources for Elvish Mystic, preferably many untapped ones.
13 blue sources for Savage Knuckleblade.
At most 7 basic Island, at most 7 basic Forest, and at most 7 basic Mountain for Savage Knuckleblade (although we won’t come close to running into this restriction).
18 green sources for Boon Satyr (I wouldn’t mind 17 because you can also see it as a 5-drop, but let’s see if we can fit in 18).
17 red sources for Ashcloud Phoenix (I wouldn’t mind 16 because you can morph it, but let’s see if we can fit in 17).
Counting 4 Elvish Mystics as 1 green source for Boon Satyr and counting 4 Rattleclaw Mystic as 1 source for each color (which is admittedly a bit on the low/safe side) we already have 2 sources for double-green, 1 red source, and 1 blue source.
For the land base, I’ll start with 4 Frontier Bivouac, 4 Wooded Foothills, 2 Forest, and 2 Mountain. Those are easy inclusions because we have double-green and double-red cards. Since this deck is aggressive, I would be looking for 2-3 Temples, 5-6 pain-lands, and 1-2 Mana Confluence. Due to Elvish Mystic, I’ll favor Yavimaya Coast over Shivan Reef and I want Temple of Epiphany over green Temples.
Let’s add the low side of that number range for each of those lands and see where that leads us. After doing that, our mana base consists of:
This is 20 lands and gives us 14 green sources for Elvish Mystic, 16 green sources for Boon Satyr, 14 red sources, and 12 blue sources. (Here I included the sources from our mana creatures and counted 4 Wooded Foothills as 3 green and 3 red sources.)
We have 3 more lands to add and need 1-2 more green sources, 2-3 more red sources, and 1 more blue source. We add at most 1 Temple, at most 1 pain land, at most 1 Mana Confluence, and any number of basics. Here, there is plenty of freedom, although I’d like to err on the side of adding more green mana sources because the early drops of the deck are so green-heavy.
The sideboard and metagame may also play a role. For example, if the sideboard includes multiple copies of Anger of the Gods, then all of our last 3 lands should be red. Similarly, if the sideboard contains several blue cards, then we don’t want the majority of our blue mana to come from pain lands, so we should add a blue Temple or Island. And if red burn decks are popular, then I’d prefer to stay away from Mana Confluence if I can help it. So it depends, but 1 Temple of Abandon, 1 Forest, and 1 Shivan Reef might be a good solution as our last three lands.
Overall, the mana base for this Temur deck will be fine: it allows us to cast our spells with enough consistency and has a good mix of pain lands and tap-lands. I hope this example and the preceding discussion gave a useful look at my approach to mana bases in Khans of Tarkir Standard!