In Development – Making Modern Mana

There are about two weeks (give or take) left in the PT Dragon’s Maze qualifier season. That’s about two more weeks of trying to figure out how to build Modern decks, which means trying to figure out Modern mana bases.

It also means I’ll offer a bit of an apology here for getting to today’s offering a little later than I’d have liked in the season. Fortunately, now that I’ve gone through the grunt work of converting this sucker and all its exciting dependencies into Excel, it’ll be much easier to update it for future Modern seasons—and use it as the base of worksheets for other formats as well.

That’s right, today we have the Modern mana base worksheet, along with a fixed Standard worksheet, and an alternate take on a Standard mana base worksheet that you may want to take a look at.

We’ll get to the Modern worksheet and how to use it presently—but first, let’s touch on Standard one more time.

Updated Standard Worksheets

We have two updates to the Standard worksheet I presented last time—a fix, and a complete reworking.

Fixing Those Buggy Buddy Lands

As several of you pointed out last time, the worksheet had a bit of an error. In summary, it wasn’t properly calculating the likelihood that your buddy lands would enter the battlefield untapped. That actually didn’t have much impact on the worksheet as designed, but I’m glad for the catch.

Here’s the fixed Standard worksheet.

Another Take on a Standard Worksheet

Last week, Chris Rollins made some good comments on the Standard Worksheet and then went ahead and emailed his significant modification to the idea. Chris focused his efforts on properly representing your ability to hit mana in various two-color combinations, a really good idea that I incorporated into the Modern mana base worksheet I’m presenting today (although I took a very different tack on it than Chris did).

Chris’s worksheet is a nice, clean presentation of a useful, alternate take on figuring out your mana for post-Gatecrash Standard. I recommend taking a look at it—and encourage all of you to tinker with the worksheets I put up. I’m confident many of you will come up with handy ideas and metrics for evaluating your color choices that will help the rest of us figure out if we’re building our mana bases correctly.

Here’s Chris’s Standard worksheet

The Modern Mana Base Worksheet

Okay, now for all of you sweating out the last two weeks of the Modern season, here’s the new Modern mana base worksheet:

Click here for the Modern worksheet

This worksheet is designed to let you build a Modern mana base and then tweak it, watching dynamically the impact your choices have on the deck’s ability to provide the colors you need. It does not touch on mana fixers (such as [card]Farseek[/card]), mostly out of deference to the added complexity of this worksheet and my desire to get it to you before the end of the current PTQ season.

In the next few sections, we’ll do a walkthrough on the worksheet and how to use it. But first, a quick comment about hacks and approximations.

Yes, This is Not Perfectly Accurate

One of the things I’ve really appreciated about my own field of biology is that we often look at complex equations that would be unrealistic to solve even with extensive computation capacity—and then just treat a really small number as zero, simplify that sucker, and solve it with a calculator.

Careful readers, or anyone who’s fond of staring at the equations in Excel cells, will notice that there are some hacks and approximations in this worksheet. That’s on purpose—there are many points where getting it exactly right would push us into the land of having an actual application and not a handy little spreadsheet.

The only really, really accurate mana base evaluator would account for all playable hands, possibly using rules to describe keepable hands.

Conveniently, we don’t need a really, really accurate evaluator. We just need a good gauge for whether we’re making a mana base that will support our overall plan. Thus, today’s worksheet, with the occasional hack, fudge, or approximation.

How to Use the New Modern Mana Base Worksheet—an Overview

The first thing you’ll notice with this new worksheet is that I’ve bumped all the relevant stats to the top of the sheet, in cells that are frozen in place. This means that as you add and change lands, you constantly get to see the impact they have on your deck’s color performance. This replaces the whole “keep flipping down to the bottom of the worksheet” method from prior worksheets.

Here’s the top half or so of the worksheet:

Yeah, so there’s a lot going on. It’s Modern.

The first, last, and most important guideline for using this worksheet is this:

Only change the yellow cells.

Obviously, all you tinkerers are going to tinker. But if you’re just using the worksheet as presented, only change the yellow cells. There are a lot of cells in this worksheet chugging away at different calculations and dependencies, so typing in, changing, deleting, or otherwise modifying the other cells can break the worksheet.

You can enter three basic things in the appropriate yellow spaces:

1) The total number of cards in the deck. You enter that up here in the header area:

2) The number of a given land card in the deck. You enter that in the yellow space next to that specific land.

3) Other lands that aren’t represented in the worksheet.

As we’ll see in the tour we’re about to take down the worksheet, it doesn’t have all the lands that are legal in Modern. With nearly 300 lands legal in Modern, that would be a cumbersome worksheet—especially since many of those lands will never see Modern play.

When you need to enter your own land, you’ll do that in some yellow spaces provided for that purpose.

With the yellow space warning out of the way, let’s take a walk down the worksheet. For the sake of clarity and having some actual calculations in place, we’re going to look at a worksheet that’s been filled out for a Jund list. Here’s that Jund list’s manabase:

[deck]1 Forest
2 Swamp
1 Blood Crypt
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Marsh Flats
3 Treetop Village
2 Raging Ravine
4 Blackcleave Cliffs[/deck]

The Calculations at the Top

Here’s the header area of the worksheet for this Jund mana base:

Starting on the left, the header reports on the basics of your deck and its mana.

The total land count is first. This is a calculated value—the worksheet is just adding up the lands as you add them and telling you how many you have.

The next five lines show you how many lands you have that can produce each color. This counts not just lands that produce the color, but also fetches that can grab a land that produces that color—as long as you have the appropriate land to grab in the deck. Fetches with no targets will produce no color at all.

You will sometimes see “fractional” color tallies. That’s a product of how the worksheet evaluates “filter lands” such as the [card]Twilight Mire[/card] in the Jund list.

Below the color tally, the header tells you how many lands in the deck enter the battlefield tapped. This, too, can end up being a fractional tally in some lists (due to buddy lands). Immediately to the right of this is an estimate in bright red of the likelihood of having one or more lands that enter the battlefield tapped in the first few turns. This doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck playing those lands, just that you’ll have them in your hand.

To the right of these basic color tallies are four sets of mana estimates. These “direct” estimates look at how likely it is that you’ll be able to produce the listed color or combination of colors during the first few turns.

This Jund list can manage to produce the color black 95% of the time in those early turns. It hits black plus another mana of any color 94% of the time. It can produce both black and red 91% of the time. Finally, it can make double black 89% of the time.

But these “direct” estimates are very, very generous. After all, they’re just calculating the chance that you’ll be able to make that color combination, with no regard for whether the cards you’d have would be otherwise playable.

That takes us one more step to the right, to the rest of the header:

This “conservative” estimate takes a very blunt approach to the problem of accounting for good hands. It just assumes that 30% of your random collection of hands aren’t playable and downgrades the calculated percentages to match.

So, where the “direct” estimate had this Jund deck producing black plus red 91% of the time, the “conservative” estimate says that will happen just 63% of the time.

Basic Lands

This is a good time to explain the first few columns—and let you know that you can ignore pretty much everything to the right of “coded traits.”

We obviously have the name of the land, then the number of that land—which you will enter yourself. The next column tells you what colors the land produces. This is partially a reminder for you, and also an area that is sometimes calculated (for fetches) or user-generated (for lands you enter yourself). This is followed by “types” for those lands that have a land type such as “Forest” or “Island.” This lets the worksheet know that the land can be fetched by the appropriate fetchland. The “finds” column is for fetches—you shouldn’t ever have to mess with it.

Finally, there’s the “coded traits” column. So far, this just includes “T” for those lands that enter the battlefield tapped. This column is to let you keep track of how many lands you have in the deck with certain traits. You could imagine, for example, adding an “S” for snow lands and then making a calculation based on that, if that mattered to you for some reason.

Shocks and Other Typed Lands

Below the basics we have the rest of the “typed” lands, including shocklands and others. This area also includes the first “add your own lands” area, if there are other typed lands I missed that you’d want to enter.

Buddy Lands and Fetches

In this section, the blue boxes next to the buddy lands tell you the likelihood that each land will enter the battlefield untapped. This can be a nice place to look if your ETBT percentage is coming up too high at the top and you’d like to diagnose the problem (assuming you haven’t just packed your deck with lands that always enter tapped).

Below are the fetches. The only things you need to know here are that the “colors” and “types” values for each fetch are calculated based on the targets available in the deck. Don’t worry that some colors and types are repeated—that’s just a product of how the worksheet tallies these traits.

Finally in this section we have [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], which works as explained last time. Just type a “1” in the yellow space under “untapped/color producing” if you want to count the Caverns as producing colors. This lets you see the impact it has on color fixing for your named creature—and to understand how the deck performs when it isn’t producing color.

Filters and Creatures

The next two sections are the filter lands…

…and creature lands.

They both list the lands you think they would. The filter land section uses a fairly approximate method of calculating how often the lands produce the colors you want, but they should work well for most estimates.

Rounding it Out

At the end of the worksheet there are three frequently seen utility lands, and then an area to add your own.

In this case, the Jund player has added in their 4 copies of [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card]. To do this, they wrote the card name in (duh), the number of copies (4), and the colors produced by the land (BR).

…and that’s all there is to it.

Rounding up the Worksheets

I hope this Modern mana base worksheet is helpful to you for the remainder of this PTQ season and any Modern matchups you find yourself in after that. You may have also realized that this Modern worksheet works just fine as a Standard worksheet, so you can try it in addition to the two other Standard options presented today.

Let me know how it works for you and—as always—share your thoughts on the tools and calculations you’d like to see to help you get the most out of your deckbuilding process.

magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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