Legacy’s Latest #3 – Building a Proper Manabase

Manabases in Legacy are awful. If you compare us to Vintage, we are all still in the phase where people are running City of Brass or Undiscovered Paradise in two- and three-colored decks. Even worse, the most popular deck (Vial Goblins) runs four Wasteland and four Rishadan Port. I find it ironic that I spent a large portion of my time campaigning for Goblins to run all eight colorless lands, and now those same lands get in my way when I try to build new decks…

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."
Galileo Galilei

Manabases in Legacy are awful. If you compare us to Vintage, we are all still in the phase where people are running City of Brass or Undiscovered Paradise in two- and three-colored decks. Even worse, the most popular deck (Vial Goblins) runs four Wasteland and four Rishadan Port. I find it ironic that I spent a large portion of my time campaigning for Goblins to run all eight colorless lands, and now those same lands get in my way when I try to build new decks. So many interesting decks end up faring incredibly poorly in testing because they cannot stand up to turn 1 Aether Vial, turn 2 Wasteland.

There is a huge temptation to splash too much and fall prey to Wasteland. It’s easy to get multiple colors of mana with fetchlands and dual lands; Extended proved this fact. However, where Extended is running off-color fetches to get access to some of the shocklands, Legacy players need to be cutting back on the number of duals they run. The difference? Wasteland is not legal in Extended, but even so, remember the power of the Boros Deck Wins early on. I cannot count how many decklists I’ve seen start out with (too few land) eight fetchlands, four dual lands, and occasionally even four shocklands. Vintage players can get away with only running basics of one color because Blue is just that strong; Legacy players cannot. If Yawgmoth’s Will was in the format, I would gladly throw a dual land in the way of Wasteland in order to play it, but I am not willing to sacrifice a land to Wasteland simply to play Swords to Plowshares. It’s not just Goblins, either; BW Confidant eats bad manabases for breakfast. Grand Prix: Philadelphia served a wakeup call to the format. Decks like Pikula’s BW Confidant may be objectively weak, but if you keep a hand with just one land, you had better be prepared to concede to Sinkhole. Are you prepared for that? If not, read on.

What I have to say does not apply solely to Legacy. Take a look at the current crop of Standard decklists. Most of the Ravnica-era decklists start with four of each shockland in the appropriate colors, and often several of the appropriate painlands. This is not always optimal, especially for control decks. How many games have been decided by one point of damage in a damage race? If you are too lazy to test and see how many shocklands and painlands you really need, you will be punished. In Standard you might be hurt too much by Blood Moon, or take a few extra damage. In Legacy, losing a land at the wrong time or of the wrong color can lose the game.

Here are the three manabases I’ve seen and liked. These are not the only good manabases, but I felt they provide excellent examples because of the way they balance tricky mana requirements in limited space. The first one is from my Flame Vault Stasis Stax build. I had to fit as many accelerants in as I could, as well as four Wasteland and still have ready access to both Blue and Red. The real catch here is the severe Blue mana requirements because of Stasis.

Here’s the deck:

Here’s the manabase:

1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Flooded Strand
2 Volcanic Island
1 Polluted Delta
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
4 Wasteland
2 Crystal Vein
4 Mox Diamond

The point worth highlighting here is the color balance. I only run two Volcanic Islands; with recent decks I’ve made it a point to run as few dual lands as possible. In my last article I talked about Swords to Plowshares as a Time Walk versus aggro decks, because it is another turn that you make a land drop and pass without dying. Goblins uses Wasteland in the same fashion. If your plan is to ramp up mana and play a few permanents, then when Goblins kills your land, they have just done free damage.

Legacy players are just starting to learn something that Vintage players have known for a while: dual lands are a crutch. In some of the more fragile earlier decks, like Landstill or ATS, I cannot count the number of times I had some insane play lined up only to have my turn 1 or turn 2 land drop Wastelanded. What’s worse is that the succeeding land drops are going to be much more difficult to make because, counting fetchlands, I may have pulled three or four lands out of my library by turn 3. This manabase only uses Volcanic Island for color fixing; if you absolutely need off-color mana from a fetchland and do not have access to Mox Diamond, then your Blue fetches can pull a Red source, and vice versa.

The thing I like most about that manabase is Mox Diamond. I cannot stress enough how useful Mox Diamond is. With most multi-colored decks, especially in enemy colors, one of my first questions is how useful Mox Diamond would be (and not just because I own four, one of which is signed). Mox Diamond provides color-fixing and an immunity to Wasteland. Mox Diamond has nasty interactions with cards like Crucible of Worlds and Life from the Loam; every deck that abuses the graveyard in some way (Threshold, Life from the Loam, Crucible of Worlds) should at least consider the benefit the card provides.

This second manabase comes from Dan Spero UGW Threshold list. Dan does a lot of subtle things right. While he only runs 18 lands, Dan manages to cram in a basic of each type as well as the appropriate fetchlands, and somehow he balanced the color requirements with the mana requirements so that you can get the right color mana when you need it. Here’s the deck:

Here’s the manabase:

1 Forest
4 Flooded Strand
3 Tundra
2 Polluted Delta
2 Island
2 Windswept Heath
3 Tropical Island
1 Plains

Balancing the mana here could not have been easy. The deck has a potential play on turn 1 in each color, and so it wants to be able to bring up any color of mana on turn 1 if it has to, and still be able to make all of its plays on turn 2. You could make a manabase for the deck with eight fetchlands, eight dual lands, an Island and a Forest. If you do, be prepared to start handing game wins over to BW Confidant and Goblins. Think about all the draws where you rip the one land you need off the top to stay in the game; you don’t get those opportunities if Goblins takes out a land from you on turn 2. What makes this manabase so significant in my eyes is that the manabase does not actually improve if you add more lands. The dual land count is correct, so going up to 24-25 lands just adds four basics and a few dual lands, but you’re still relying heavily on your fetchlands to fix your mana, and that count probably cannot increase safely. It would be really easy to build the deck UG and splash White into it (as well as you can build an enemy-color deck), but that is going to seriously hose you in the sideboard. Some number of Tivadar’s Crusade are a staple in the sideboard against a deck that is definitely running Wasteland and most likely Rishadan Port as well. Good luck hitting 1WW if you only have a few Tundras and no basic Plains.

The third manabase is from my Confinement Slide deck that I mentioned in Part 2 of this series. I feel that the manabase for that deck is really solid, and the strong manabase is one of the reasons why such a mana-hungry deck has such a decent/good matchup against BW Confidant. In that matchup, your whole strategy is to use fetchlands and Sakura-Tribe Elder to make sure they cannot cut you off from your mana long enough to use Life from the Loam and stabilize. Here’s the deck:

Here’s the manabase:

4 Forest
2 Plains
2 Mountain
1 Plateau
1 Savannah
1 Taiga
4 Tranquil Thicket
4 Secluded Steppe
3 Forgotten Cave
4 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

I have to say, I am extremely proud of this manabase. One of the great things is that I feel it’s actually a good deal stronger than the (two-color) Rifter manabase. Remember in the finals of Grand Prix: Philadelphia, Chris Pikula won versus Rifter by cutting his opponent off from Red. That cannot happen with this deck. By adding a third color, I’ve made the entire manabase stronger and resistant to Wastelands with the more consistent fetchland powered manabase and access to Sakura-Tribe Elder and Life from the Loam. The main point I want to illustrate with this deck is how much more powerful your deck becomes when you have a primary color, and when you delegate the others to splashes.

It is obvious that Life from the Loam does a good job of fixing your mana (and it helps you make your third land drop if you absolutely need it to), but the other 1G spells do a good job as well. Wall of Blossoms was primarily included for being a ridiculous combo piece with Astral Slide, but it works just as well as Sleight of Hand in Threshold when digging for land (probably even slightly better, since you run a whopping ten lands more than they do). Sakura-Tribe Elder is truly an integral part of the manabase, since it ignores color requirements on fetchlands and gets you the color you need right away. Generally the play is turn 1 fetchland for Forest, turn 2 fetchland for Plains, Sakura-Tribe Elder to get me Mountain. Now no matter what I do, I’m guaranteed access to all three colors. Sometimes things do not always work out that neatly; don’t be afraid to play a cycling land as a land early, but be prepared for Wasteland, and make sure you play cycling lands first to keep your curve intact.

The color balance was very strictly monitored and tweaked. Against BW Confidant you absolutely need access to as many basic Forests as you can. If they can cut you off from Green, they will deny you all your tools (like Life from the Loam, which is back-breaking), so the Forest count got upped by one. The fetchland count is 4/2 on purpose, because White is much more critical to the deck than Red, and that is also why there are fewer Red cycling lands than White.

I do not even consider Birds of Paradise or mana elves in my decks, except as special considerations in Survival decks. Those creatures cannot substitute for lands because they are simply too fragile. When you rely on a creature like those two to make a land drop, you turn all your opponent’s Lightning Bolts into Sinkholes. Wall of Roots, Vine Trellis, and Utopia Tree are all much better options, because not only are they harder to kill, but they can also block and stick around if you need them to; Wall of Roots especially. Wall of Roots is also significant for being able to generate mana the turn it comes into play.

So what’s the moral of the story? There are a few things that I really wanted to express with this article. The first is that land destruction is everywhere, mostly concentrated in Goblins and BW Confidant. The days are gone when you can throw a bunch of dual lands and make it work. That only works in Extended because that format is devoid of Wasteland. There are only a few decks that can get away with just throwing out dual lands willy nilly, and those decks can put a Goblin-proof threat out turn 1, and follow it up with another the next turn.

Enemy colors versus allied colors matter. Until Wizards decides to give us enemy color fetchlands, your best tools for beating land destruction are fetchlands in the right colors and the appropriate basics. You may think you can beat Goblins by holding your Polluted Delta back until you need a Volcanic Island, but unless you’re prepared to use that Volcanic Island as a Lotus Petal, it is worth looking into a way to find basic Mountains. In a two-color deck, it is okay to use fetchlands of two different colors; that is the approach I demonstrated with Flame Vault Stasis Stax. The dual lands were just as an emergency to make the right color mana; the fetchlands essentially replace basic lands of the appropriate color. You cannot always depend on the right fetchlands showing up to bail you out of your mana troubles. Sakura-Tribe Elder is ridiculously undervalued in the current format, and it’s some of the best acceleration we’ve got. It nets you a land and blocks on the way out. So in other words, mana matters. Two of the top three decks in Legacy have a way to punish you for cheating on your mana, and there is no point in giving up free percentage points because you were lazy.

Kevin Binswanger
[email protected]
Anusien just about everywhere