Maxing your Mana and Splashing for Success

In the second of his weekly columns, Jeroen answers some strategic questions on Ravnica Limited. We all know that a strong manabase is important… but how can we maximize our color-producing potential? Also, when is the optimal time to start thinking about our splash options? All this, plus a Team Standard decklist!

Hey people! Jeroen here, with my second new article for StarCityGames! This is the first one where I will be answering real Magic strategy questions posed by readers, so I suppose it’s actually the first article, after the… ah whatever, confusing myself already here.

I played in a Team Constructed PTQ yesterday with two long time friends, mainly just to get a feel for how this Team Constructed thing works, and just to have some fun. They both don’t really play competitive Magic, since one has decided he is quitting the game (Bas Postema) and the other doesn’t really care enough (Frank van den Hanenberg). They are both very good players though, and we finished in the Top 4. I thought I’d give you a little info on that since I played a deck that I heard about by reading this very site: the Glare deck discussed in a number of Mike Flores articles. I don’t know who created it, but I know Mike got to from one of his opponents in another PTQ. Playing this deck for eight rounds, I figured out some strong plays and ended by going 6-2, so I feel this deck is pretty good. The Shoals are the main reason it wins so much… they are spectacular, despite not having all that much to pitch to them (which can be a problem most of the time). I also didn’t like the sideboard I used at all, as the Solifuges seemed out of place and didn’t perform greatly against most of the decks I was afraid of. The Fetters I played were only there against Zoo, and were not even great in that matchup. They needed to go, I think. This means that the list I would play, if I were to play again, would be:

This way you can board in some extra beats and blockers versus the decks that fear them, and they will not slow down your deck and make it more top-heavy (unlike the Solifuges and Fetters). I feel Watchwolf fills that role much better.

Now that’s behind us, let’s start with what this column is really about: your strategy questions.

First of all a follow-up on last week, with some questions from the forums by Hordling. This was his post:

I have some questions regarding the building of your manabase once you have finished drafting.

Of course, your manabase depends on the rest of the deck you’ve drafted, but lets say you were able to draftfour4 bounce lands, and allfour4 are in your colors. How many lands (including the 4 bounce lands) would you run on average? Fifteen? Sixteen? Seventeen? Let’s assume you did not draft Green taking Elves or Wayfinders. Let’s say you have four two–mana dudes, four three-mana dudes, and six four-mana dudes, rounded out by a smooth curve of spells. Let’s also assume that you were able to stick to two colors and just splash a 3rd, making color requirements not much of an issue. How many lands total would you run, knowing that you have four bounce lands?

Oingy Boingy

The deck you are describing here seems like the perfect draft deck: a good curve, lots of early drops, and also lots of doubles in most drops. I would never play more than fifteen land in this deck, including all four of the bounce lands. As they are all in color, this means you will never have problems getting your colors, and plenty of early-game means you won’t have to worry about missing a land drop or two.

What is the greatest number of bounce lands you would run? What is the minimum number of basic lands you would run?

This is basically the same question, as I doubt that I would ever run less than fourteen land, and fourteen is really a one-in-a-hundred times affair, so let’s say the actual minimum is fifteen. The maximum number of bounce lands I would run is five, given that your curve allows it, and you have lots of stuff to do on turns 1 and 2. Otherwise four would be the max, no matter what my deck looks like. This puts the minimum of the basics at ten, although I would also count special lands that come into play untapped into that category, as they can be picked up just as easily by the bouncy lands.

If you have three or more bounce lands in your deck, would you choose to go first to avoid having to discard a card due to playing a bounce land before a spell? At what number of bounce lands would you choose to go first versus second?

I always go first in this format. The reason is the bounce lands, but it doesn’t really matter if I have that many or not, because your opponent might also be having them, and then playing first for him is a huge advantage. Noah Boeken also once explained the playing first or drawing first thing to me perfectly, as he said:

“I always want to play first. Sure, your opponent will draw an extra card first… but if you play first you will be the one playing your extra cards first. Magic is not decided on turn 10, but more like turn 6, so he will never be able to use his extra cards when the game is decided.”

Of course, this isn’t true for all formats, but I do know that the bounce lands and this thing I learned at an early stage in my career means I will very rarely draw first. It’s not just about your own deck, but as much about your opponent’s deck as well. Drawing first would only be the correct play if you know your opponent and you don’t have any bounce lands, and your decks are both very slow.

When you determine what your primary color is in your 40-card deck, what is the minimum number of color sources you try to include to insure that you get that color of mana in your opening hand?

This depends a lot on whether you have a lot of early drops in your primary colors, and the amount of double color casting costs in those colors. I would say that usually eight or nine is a fine number, but it is hard to say when you don’t have the deck in front of you.

Would love to see these questions answered, thanks!

No, thank you. These are exactly the kind of strategy questions needed to make these articles great. I picked these off the forums, but remember that if you want to be sure I read the question, email me at [email protected].

Next up, another Limited strategy question from RisingPhoenix, once again on our great forums:

Top Bombing!

If you are drafting a solid Selesnya deck (because of a first pick Glare of Subdual, second pick Faith’s Fetters) would you decide between Red/Black splash if you saw a decent card (i.e. Sunhome Enforcer or Dimir House Guard), or would you draft a slightly weaker card (say, Greater Mossdog)? Especially in these cases:

Pack 1, pick 5: Greater Mossdog or Sunhome Enforcer.
Pack 1, pick 5: Greater Mossdog or Dimir House Guard.
Pack 2, pick 5: Same scenarios (let’s say that most of the Boros and Golgari cards you saw were awful, so someone is probably snatching them before you).

How much would the Guildpact pack factor into your thinking? Would you be waiting to grab up Orzhov/Gruul goodies, or would you limit your selection for decent Ravnica cards? Would you be more reluctant to grab GWr?

You know that with Guildpact coming up, no matter how hard you will try, your deck will be lacking if you don’t go for a third color. Playing GW, you have two options – Gruul and Orzhov, like you mentioned – and splashing one or even both has to be what you are looking for to maximize your deck’s power. That being said, the reason to branch out has to be strong enough compared to sticking with your main colors. In your example you state Sunhome Enforcer or Man’s best Fungus, and I feel like the quality of these cards is close enough to just take the Dog, since splashing the Enforcer isn’t very strong, with only a couple of red lands to pump it. I do feel like House Guard is a lot stronger than the Dog, as it will allow you to transmute for both Glare and Fetters, and it’s a better creature than Greater Mossdog on its own. I feel the pick there would be House Guard, and I’d then try, maybe, to go base BW splashing the Green for the Glare. If the House Guard were a Drooling Groodion, I would definitely spend time rethinking the picks that I’ve already passed. This can give me a lot of information about what is open and what isn’t. Groodion is a better card, but also clunky to splash with its BB casting cost, so not an auto pick.

The way these drafts usually work out for me is I try to take the most powerful card most of the time, while making sure I have a solid two-color base for my deck, and then, in the last pack, I try and figure out which colors to play. This means that maybe you will waste some early picks on cards that you will never play, like in my example if you take the House Guard and then open up a Savage Twister in pack 3 (meaning you will probably be GWr) but in the long run your deck will be more powerful. This shows how important it is to make sure you have a solid manabase, and to pick Karoos and cards like Civic Wayfinder fairly high. It gives you a lot of flexibility in the long run.

I have a bunch of questions left on all kinds of strategic topics, but to conclude I want to answer a different kind of question. The following email was sent to me by James Wright:

I recently won my first PTQ with my team.  This means that I will soon be attending my very first PT! Now, a lot of the talk over the last year on StarCityGames and elsewhere has been about players getting "connections" within the Pro Tour, and how that helps players reach the top levels of play.  As someone who has absolutely no connections within the Pro Tour, how is the normal PTQ winner supposed to get these connections started?  Do most Pros accept it if someone emails them out of the blue and starts trying to get on their playtesting team? (Assuming they live in the same general area.)

In the same vein, do most Pros look at their time on the Pro Tour as a job, or do they just treat it as a game that pays them money?

I am going to answer this question from my own perspective, as that is the only one I can honestly talk about. I myself treat this as a halfway between the things you mention. It is my job, as I do nothing other than play this game, write articles, and stuff like that. This means that it actually is that – a job – and I have to treat is as such. Of course, it is a very fun job, and the game element is also very fun to me, but it’s not the same as it used to be.

I used to love getting together with my friends, playing these multiplayer games with five people at the same time, just free-for-alling the entire afternoon/evening/night, and we would never want to stop. Back then, it was for the actual enjoyment of the game, and that, I am sad to say, has gone away. I still enjoy playing the game, otherwise I would stop, but I just get my enjoyment out of other things than the game itself. I enjoy being competitive, I enjoy winning, I enjoy travelling and hanging out with my friends… that kind of stuff is what makes Magic fun for me now. I have a feeling that most Pros think of it that way.

That said, the fact that it is our job and that we all work in competitive teams means that it is hard to break into these groups to be included in testing for a PT. Tech isn’t free anymore, and will definitely not be given away to any dude that emails us. Generally you have to prove your worth first, and then get the connections to be included in the team. I am not saying it’s perfect, but that is the way it is. In a game with this much money involved, that isn’t really surprising either.

My best advice is to test, test, test. Good luck at the PT!

So, that’s it for my first article proper. Let me know what you think, and let me know what you want to know next, in the forums or at [email protected].

See you next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Oh and Tim, mister 1024, I’ll show you how long I’ll keep this up…