Mana is boring. No one really likes to talk about mana all that much. It’s not the sexy part of Magic. Sure, no one wants to get mana screwed; everyone
wants to play the game. Even still, mana isn’t really that fun to talk about. It’s sort of like a dentist. You have to go and make sure that your teeth are
fine, but you aren’t going to start picking out curtains.
As some folks have begun to play my Commander Cube (both in real life and online at CubeTutor.com), I’ve gotten a few comments about mana and lands. While
I’ve discussed the issue a few times with a few lines in my Commander Cube writings, it’s clear that I need to dedicate a full article to the issue and to
crunch some numbers, so get ready for a bit of a classic math, if that’s your thing.
Let’s get the Commander thing out of the way now. Drafting mana in Commander is very different then a normal Cube. If you are coming to draft any Commander
Cube after drafting lots of other Cubes, then you need to take a step back and remember this whole color identity thing that Commander has.
The rules straight from the horse’s mouth:
is its colour plus the colour of any mana symbols in the card’s rules text. A card’s colour identity is established before the game begins, and cannot
be changed by game effects. Cards in a deck may not have any colours in their color identity which are not shared with the commander of the deck. (The
identity of each card in the deck must be a subset of the
Suppose that you drafted the most recent Holiday Cube or Powered Cube. Where do you take dual lands for your deck? Obviously, the answer is usually some
variant along the line of “It depends.” If you are in blue in the first few packs and you really like Azorius in your Cube, then maybe you draft a Tundra
pretty highly. Lots of players draft mana to keep their options open and may draft lands early and then end up with different colors. They’ll often use a
land for splashing a third color as well. The way you draft lands depends on the metagame, the draft thus far, and so forth.
Once you know your color combination, you can’t veer outside of it. So you don’t have any reason to draft a land that’s off-color. Not only does it not
help your deck very much, but due to color identity, it’s actually banned. You can’t play Tundra in a deck without both blue and white it in.
Remember that there is another restriction here. Most Commander drafts are multicolored. Sure you can play the occasional mono-colored draft, but you have
to dig into artifacts so deeply that you often hurt for stuff that works with your Commander (whoever you end up with). I’ve seen decent mono-blue artifact
decks a few times, and even a mono-red Daretti, Scrap Savant one once, but it’s not normal.
Anyway, as a result of the Commander’s oddities, I have chosen to stay away from a lot of these mana makers. From lands like Hallowed Fountain to artifacts
like Gruul Signet, it’s really not something that fits. I just run the cycle of Karoo lands from Ravnica (Gruul Turf et all) and that’s about it.
And I’ve gotten some comments – why don’t I add in more cycles of these cards? People want to build their Commander deck, so why can’t a Boros deck choose
from Plateau and Battlefield Forge?
Let’s answer those questions by investigating the issues.
Abe’s Happy Mana-Crunching Fun:
Operating assumption – We are assuming for purposes of these numbers that you are considering adding in a cycle of ten lands that include one of each color
combination. You’ll find that the numbers and points remain consistent among other potential cycles, like the ten tri-tap lands that include Savage Lands
and Frontier Bivouac.
In any given set of ten lends that you add to a Cube, any given two-color deck can draft precisely one of those cards. So your Izzet deck can only draft
Volcanic Island, Steam Vents, or Temple of Epiphany. There’s just a 10% chance that any two-color deck will be able to use a given card from a ten-card
Now, a Grixis deck can use 30% of those additions. It can draft any Red-Blue, Red-Black, or Black-Red lands that work. That means that a three color deck
is three times more likely to find lands that it can draft and use to fix its own mana.
Frankly, that’s just counter-intuitive. It shouldn’t be three times easier to build the manabase for a three color deck than a two-color one. Maybe a
little harder, and maybe even steady because we don’t want to punish three-color decks in our Commander draft, but we shouldn’t make it harder for
a two-color deck to work.
Recall color identity here. In a normal draft, a two-color deck can certainly draft other colors of mana-making to open up other options later, or to
support a splash color. That’s not possible here, you are locked into that specific color combination.
Additionally, remember that the likelihood of actually flipping and seeing the one land in question for a two-color deck isn’t exactly a guarantee, so the
addition of ten cards may not help your deck at all.
And don’t forget the negative issue here as well. Imagine that I tossed in 50 more lands into my Cube and included the classic mana cycles of Magic-dom.
What would be the consequence?
1). You would be 50 cards less likely to flip over the powerful cards that you want to make your deck. Some commanders have tight archetypes that they need
to work, like Doran, the Siege Tower or Vorel of the Hull Clade. Adding in 50 cards to the Cube reduces the chances of seeing good cards for your deck.
2). You are adding in 45 cards that a two-color deck can’t use at all, and 35 cards that a three-color deck can’t use. There’s already so many cards that
people can’t draft due to color identity. Why add in that many more for such a small benefit?
The likelihood that you will flip one of these lands and see them in a pack is very low. It’s just not worth the cost.
But there’s another super-secret bad issue as well.
Suppose you have four folks drafting the Cube. Let’s say two are playing three colors and the other two two colors, and we’ll randomly select….Simic,
Selesnya, Grixis, and Jeskai.
Now, did you notice something with that random selection of colors? That’s right! There are some lands that can’t be drafted by anyone. If you
flip an Underground River or Caves of Koilos or Gruul Guildgate, it’s like flipping over a blank card, or drawing the Rules Card when you shuffle up and
play Poker. Somebody forgot to take that card out again!
That’s not a good drafting experience, and any four player combo is likely to find the same issue. In fact, I have found that two-color commanders tend to
be easier to draft around, and therefore, more common to use. I have seen more drafts with a majority of two-color decks than those with a majority
three-color. Remember, in a normal Cube, you can draft them to splash colors or whatnot later. You don’t have color agility in a Commander Cube draft.
Now, I do think that my Cube project erred on this front. I have had the Karoo guildlands, like Selesnya Sanctuary, in the project since the very
beginning. I think sometimes someone sees one of those lands and then expects more. Then they are confused. I ran the Karoo lands because I think they are
the best cycle to run one-of since they tap for two mana. So, I haven’t consistently used this concept myself.
So I am pulling out the ten lands from my Cube.
But, no worries. I am adding five lands in their place.
The Panorama cycle. Because they search for land types rather than tap for colors, they do not violate the color identity rules. So you can run Jund
Panorama in your Grixis deck. This move retains the same number of useful lands that color combination had from the Karoo cycle, but drops the additions to
five, thereby reducing the size of Cube. That’s a smart change. Each land appeals to three different two-color decks (Grixis Panorama is a good pickup for
Izzet, Rakdos, and Dimir decks), perfect for one three-color deck, and then a useful grab for…five other three-color combinations (any color combination
that gets you two of the three colors.) So the Panoramas work quite well.
Don’t forget that by adding in a bunch of traditional two-color mana lands like Izzet Guildgate that you are also reducing the interactivity of the draft.
If only one player can draft them, then they do, and no one can fend them off.
Other than the Panorama cycle I just added, my typical way of dealing with this is simply to increase the amount of cards that can make any color of mana,
from City of Brass to Grand Coliseum and more. That way everyone is fighting for cards, and every color combination supported equally.
Adding in five lands that can tap for any color of mana gives a two-color deck four (and a three-color deck two) more lands to grab to fix their mana
issues rather than one super-cycle of ten lands. So adding Transguild Promenade works.
There have been some other ways suggested to deal with these issues. Let’s take a look:
1). Some Cubes have a small pack of commanders they support. You draft this pack before the draft begins, and then you have 2 or 3 commanders you are
looking at, and you have some draft agility as a result.
Having played with this in reality, you have both more and less agility. In my Cube, commanders are all in the draft itself. And we usually draft in a
similar arc, selecting a commander very easily, often in the first pick or two, and then sticking with it. But we’ve all moved. I once initially took Oona,
Queen of the Fae, and then drafted Dimir solidly until I saw some strong white stuff fall, so I grabbed some white cards, took an Esper general in the
second pack and switched over. If you can only play the commanders that are in the opening pack, then you lose that ability for an organic, natural draft.
Sure, you would give someone a reason to grab that Selesnya Sanctuary, if one of their generals was Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, even if the other was
Borborygmos Enraged. But you lose the agility of an organic draft as a result.
Also, note that if you draft colors that are heavily contested by others, you can’t audible out.
So while this way of making the Cube certainly has positives and issues, overall, I think it makes the draft too artificial.
2). Some folks want to draft the commander pack after the Cube, so you can draft like a normal Cube, moving mana around and such, and then draft a
commander to fit that Cube later on.
Well, there are a few good things with that, and the ability to fit the commander to the draft makes real sense.
However, there are many issues. First, I think most decks would end up with random good stuff, just trying to find a commander that allowed them to run
their colors. In my Cube, there are a lot of supported archetypes that you would know to draft because you are building that commander.
For example, let’s take my Azorius colors, as a quick example:
– You can draft a strong blink deck with cards like Momentary Blink, Mulldrifter, Venser, the Sojourner, and Nephalia Smuggler around.
– There are two major options that suggest a slower control deck that uses cards like Wrath of God, Fog Bank, and Recurring Insight to slow things down,
kill them, or draw cards, and then play fast and furious.
– Multiple leaders want to be able to deal combat damage for various triggers. And we have some strong options available to get them into the red zone such
as Steel of the Godhead. Even Venser, the Sojourner shows up here too.
– From Sanctum Gargoyle and Master of Etherium to Tezzeret the Seeker and Enlightened Tutor, we have a lot of fun support for artifacts, and you can easily
build a powerful engine from these cards!
Now, you know that if you are building a deck around some legendary creatures (Brago, King Eternal vs Geist St. Traft vs Isperia, Supreme Judge) that you
have different needs.
And that’s just the intentional archetypes in just one color combination; every color combination that’s two- or three-color has a lot!
So if you don’t know the flavor of your commander until post-draft, you are going to lose that nuance. Commander drafts in that setup will lead to overly
drafting good stuff.
Can you imagine if you drafted a strong Grixis deck and then you couldn’t find a Grixis commander? The best you could do was Grenzo, Dungeon Warden?
For the lack of a good commander, the draft was lost.
So, for these reasons, I think my draft is the best of an admittedly uneven situation.
Now, for full disclosure, here are the issues with my version of drafting with a lot of legendary creatures in the draft itself, you can use any to lead,
all are supported in various archetypes, and mana is exclusively five-color or some variant thereof (like Coldsteel Heart or Fellwar Stone):
1). When everyone wants lands, the price of a land rises in packs, and people have to spend higher picks to get cards like Command Tower and Rupture Spire.
2). If players don’t prioritize their mana, then they may wind up with a lot of basic lands in their deck later, which can get problematic. I have second
picked a Command Tower in a pack once.
3). Yes, the addition of five-color lands means that we have fewer lands overall. Sure, your deck might benefit from a lot more draftable lands that get
flipped, but there are fewer lands to go around. There’s only so many lands to go around in Magic’s history that work like City of Brass or Rupture Spire.
So you could easily end up with just three or four lands that smooth your mana, and then a few non-basics with abilities that work with your deck and then
a bunch of basics.
(Frankly, the same issue occurs in a Cube with a ton of non-basic land-smoothing fun as well though – take a look at other drafts and decks online to see.)
So, there are some issues, sure. Nothing in Magic is ever 100% the best option without any disadvantages. Yet, I think this is the best of the situation
that we have out there.
I know it’s an article on….sigh…mana. Such a boring topic, I get it. What do you think? Want to give my Cube a draft on CubeTutor with the changes to Panoramas and try it out? (Change it to six packs, by the way).
How do you handle mana in your Commander Cubes?