Deep Analysis – Manabases in Post-Shards Standard

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Thursday, September 18th – With Shards of Alara approaching fast, a Constructed specialist’s mind turns to new cards and challenges. Today, Richard looks at the basic foundation of deck design: the production of mana. He takes us through our options in both two-color and three-color design, setting the stage for more development when Shards finally arrives.

Last week I received several forum suggestions that I look ahead to Shards-powered Standard rather than poking around in a format that is getting old and on its way out. Message received! We may not have the full spoiler yet, but there is still plenty to dig into.

As Magus of the Moon is on his way out, the main reason not to play five colors in post-Shards Standard is manlands and a desire for lands that always come in untapped. If you don’t care terribly much about either of those things, I think a reasonable reaction is, “Five colors, here I come!” I sympathize with that reaction completely; running the full compliment of Vivids and Reflecting Pools gives you access to pretty much the absolute best cards in the format for whatever strategy you are trying to implement.

However, some of the few cards it does not give you (reasonable) access to are manlands, and there are plenty of quality manlands in this format to give me reason to want them in my list. We all know about the obvious mono-colored lists, but what about two-color and three-color manland-powered lists?

Two-Color Lists

Consider the following manabase:

4 Treetop Village
4 Faerie Conclave
4 Mutavault
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Flooded Grove
4 Reflecting Pool

That’s 24 land, 16 Blue sources, 16 Green sources, four of which produce doubles (enabling both Cryptic Command and Chameleon Colossus), and a healthy twelve manlands. With numbers like that, you could get away with a seriously greedy, creature-light build of an aggro-control deck like, oh… say, Merfolk:

4 Treetop Village
4 Faerie Conclave
4 Mutavault
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Flooded Grove
4 Reflecting Pool

3 Merfolk Looter
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Stonybrook Banneret

4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Cancel
4 Sage’s Dousing

4 Cryptic Command
4 Chameleon Colossus
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Oona, Queen of the Fae

4 Cloudthresher
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Wake Thrasher
3 Naturalize

The only Shards cards in there are Cancel (a reprint I’m sure we’ll all soon be sick of) and Naturalize, though I admit Courier’s Capsule (1U for an artifact that lets you pay another 1U, tap it, and sacrifice it to draw 2 cards) looked interesting.

This is a very minimalist take on Merfolk, essentially mono-Blue and splashing Treetop Village and Chameleon Colossus in the main, with an almost mono-Green board. It’s got 24 lands, half of which are manlands, and a healthy 12 counters. As the aggro-control “nuts draw” that generally makes the archetype worth playing involves superior threats on the board and counters in hand, having such an abundance of threats to deploy is a real asset.

Usually if you drop your creatures all over the table trade them for the opponent’s guys, there’s a big lull after the battlefield clears out. You have these counters in your hand, but they’re just more boring trades with the opponent’s topdecks because you are out of gas yourself and are not clocking the opponent. With a list so heavy on manlands, though, you can just start beating in with your Mutavault (or, given six mana, Treetop Village or Faerie Conclave) while leaving mana up for Cancel or Sage’s Dousing. Provided you have the mana to do it (and with 24 lands and 12 potential cantrips, you probably will), you can step right into the aggro-control role that suits you so well as soon as the dust clears.

Besides Treetop Village and the biggest Merfolk in the format (Chameleon Colossus), Green offers some spicy sideboard options. Kitchen Finks for Red, Cloudthresher for Faeries, and Naturalize for everything from Bitterblossom to the inevitable Artifact Deck that will arise from Shards.

As you may have noticed, there’s nothing special about this mana setup; if it works for U/G, it will work for any other two combinations. It’s basically a recipe:

4 Mutavault
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Manland for Color X
4 Manland for Color Y
4 Hybrid for X/Y
4 Painland for X/Y

You could also probably substitute in a mix of appropriate basics for the Reflecting Pools, and add or subtract one to bring it to 23 or 25 lands.

For Merfolk, the only other reasonable combination – from a manland perspective – is U/R. I don’t really see much value in the 1/5 manland or the 1/1 regenerator, so I would just as soon play a basic or splash a third color rather than playing either of them.

The big downside to a recipe like this is that it makes it essentially impossible to play one-drops. For example, how would you do this with an Elves list? Even if you replace the Reflecting Pools with Forests, you only have eight ways to cast turn 1 Llanowar. You would have to take some serious measures, to applied this formula to B/G, where you’d want not only turn 1 Llanowar Elves but turn 1 Thoughtseize as well. Let’s say you cut Reflecting Pool for Forest, replaced one of the manlands with Swamps, and the Twilight Mires with Gilt-Leaf Palaces. That would give you:

4 Mutavault
4 Treetop Village
4 Forest
4 Swamp
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace

So that’s twelve turn 1 Green sources, twelve turn 1 Black sources, and a bonus four Green sources for later turns via Treetop Village. Plenty for the early game, plenty for the late game — particularly if you have Civic Wayfinder.

However, look at how this manabase accomplishes that. For one, compared to the U/G Merfolk list, this list is down four manlands — and thus four comes-into-play-tapped lands, assuming you don’t count Gilt-Leaf Palace as one. Even on top of cutting the manlands for basics, though, the list demands replacing the Hybrid land with a Tribal land. Look what happens if you try to make, say, a reliable U/G Elves manabase that supports both Ponder and Llanowar Elves on turn 1:

4 Mutavault
4 Treetop Village
4 Forest
4 Island
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Flooded Grove

Same setup as B/G, but here we have Flooded Grove instead of Gilt-Leaf Palace because there is no U/G Tribal land. Now we have an anemic eight ways to cast turn 1 Elves or Ponder, meaning we either need to cut back on manlands or skew the basic counts to favor one of the colors.

I chose U/G Elves to illustrate why skewing to favor one of the colors can hurt you: I think if you can only keep Llanowar Elves or Ponder, you would pretty clearly want the Elves – meaning you have eight Forests and zero Islands. Of course, if that’s your setup, then you have a grand total of eight Blue sources with which to cast Cryptic Command. Faaaan-tastic.

Finally, it’s worth noting that if your colored manland of choice comes in a color with no one-drops, things can still work out. In some cases this will just happen naturally (in which case, mise!) — but you can also induce it. What if you modified the U/G Elves mana base I described previously to replace Treetop Village with Faerie Conclave? It’s clearly the weaker of the two manlands, but the trade-off might be worth it to make Cryptic Command more castable – particularly if you added back in a few more Islands. Observe:

4 Mutavault
4 Faerie Conclave
6 Forest
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Flooded Grove
2 Island

This manabase has 14 Blue sources, 4 of which yield UU. That’s definitely Cryptic Command-capable, particularly if Civic Wayfinder is involved. It only has ten sources of turn 1 Green with which to cast Llanowar Elves, but there is some room to skew these numbers if that’s not enough for what the deck wants to accomplish – cut a Mutavault for a Forest, maybe scale back an Island into a Forest, and so on. Clearly, though, if you’ve got a killer U/G Elves build but can’t get the mana to work with Treetop Village, this is at least within range of a viable manabase.

Three-Color and Four-Color Lists

The manabases for decks built around any of the tri-color Shard combinations can be structurally quite similar to the recipe I outlined above. I would expect them to look something like this:

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Manland for Color X, Y, or Z
4 Hybrid for two of the colors
4 Painland or Tribal land for two of the other colors
4 Painland or Tribal land for the remaining two colors
4 Shardland for X/Y/Z

For example:

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Treetop Village
4 G/W Hybrid
4 G/R Painland
4 R/W Painland (or Ancient Ampitheater, given enough Giants)
4 R/G/W Shardland

So this would give us 16 Green sources, 12 Red sources, and 12 White sources. You wouldn’t have to use a Hybrid land, but it costs you no pain and can be convenient if you have double-colors. In this case I went with Hybrid for G/W on the assumption that an R/G/W deck would probably have Chameleon Colossus, and Hybrid lands are excellent for solving double-mana requirements.

Depending on your Tribal capabilities, it can make more or less sense to eschew Hybrids altogether. If you can support no Tribal lands, it’s pretty rough to have half your lands be painlands. I’ve run that scheme in past formats, but it can have some pretty rough consequences in a format with a red deck in it.

There’s an argument to be made for running Mutavault instead of the colored manland here, but bear in mind that Mutavault will not help with the casting of Shard-colored beaters (each has one) or Charms.

As for Four-Color lists, I think of them as essentially equivalent to the five-color lists we’ve seen in the past. They look roughly like this:

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Vivid Land X
2-4 Vivid Land Y
2-4 Hybrid Z
4 Dual or Hybrid of some sort
4 Dual of some sort
4 Dual of some sort

The numbers on these get tweaked around a lot depending on the exact color requirements of the deck, but once you get up over three colors, it’s extremely difficult to support manlands, so you might as well go the whole hog and suit up some Vivids.

Next week, assuming enough of the Shards spoiler is out that I can actually explore the full deckbuilding possibilities, I’ll be all over new decklists like honey on a… thing that’s not coated in Teflon!

See you then.

Richard Feldman
Team :S
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