Shards of Alara manafixing comes in three forms. At common you have Panoramas and Obelisks, and at uncommon you have the three-color Taplands. At this point, conventional wisdom says that Taplands sit at the top of the heap, Panoramas come next, and Obelisks finish in a close third. While I don’t disagree with this ordering, I think that there’s actually a lot to say about each of these types of fixers.
Shards draft is, in my opinion, all about your mana. There are aggro decks and control decks just like there are in any draft format, but all of them live and die by their manabases. The blind assumption that the fixing hierarchy goes Taplands > Panoramas > Obelisks comes from the ease with which each type of fixing gets you the colors you need; nothing says that you’ll be able to cast all your spells than playing a first-turn tapland that produces all three colors in your deck. This portion of my article aims to look in-depth at each of these fixers, with the eventual goal of deciding just how good they are, and how aggressively you need to pick them when drafting.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to lay this out. Part of me wanted to devote a section to Taplands, a section to Panoramas, and so on. This fails because comparisons between the different kinds of fixers are needed to highlight strengths and weaknesses. This led me to try to lay it out by Pros and Cons, but that doesn’t really give you a cohesive view of one type of fixer compared to another. In the end, I’ve tried to break it down into sections that talk about how well each fixer does at a certain task; if you think there’s a better way to talk about these cards then I welcome discussion in the forums.
Tapping for Mana
As dumb as this sounds, I think it’s the most important thing to consider when evaluating Shards draft manafixers. Taplands actually tap for the three colors of mana they provide, as do Obelisks. However, Panoramas tap for colorless, and “tap” for only one color of mana (once you crack them). This means that it is simply not correct to count a Naya Panorama as a source of Green, Red, and White mana. It is a source of Green, Red, or White mana.
What does this mean? It means that a manabase built on Panoramas that looks solid on paper actually plays much worse. For instance, I played a deck last week that included four Islands, three Swamps, four Plains, one Mountain, and a pile of Panoramas. At the time, I believed that I had eight Blue sources, eight Black sources, six White sources, and four Red sources, which sounds pretty good. However, I quickly found out that I would often lack either Black or Blue mana, because my Panorama would go to find an Island and then I would be left without any way to access a Swamp.
The lesson that I took from that draft was that Panoramas are best when they find both a main color and your splash color, and relatively poor when they find either of your two main colors. The attraction of a splash Panorama is that it gives you a way to access your splash color more reliably without hurting your main color too much. Usually you’ll naturally draw into your main color and can use the Panorama to complete your mana, but when you need to, you can fetch out the color your deck is built on and things are good. If, though, you’re relying on Panoramas to “fix” your main colors, you’ll find that things don’t proceed nearly as well.
This is why taplands are so amazing. They have a low initial investment (coming up next) and then actually give you three different colors of mana. Obelisks also do this job quite well, at a slightly higher cost, and this is why the Greedy deck is based on them. Panoramas, though, lock themselves into a single color, and don’t offer you any flexibility after you’ve decided on what land to fetch.
By “initial investment,” I mean the answer to the question of how difficult it is to get the card online and fixing your mana. The only initial investment in a tapland is skipping access to one land for one turn. Panoramas do not have exactly the same investment, though it is similar; for a Panorama you get mana right away, but you need to spend two mana to get a single color of mana on all future turns. Obelisks ask you to spend three mana to get three colors of mana (one at a time) on this turn and all future turns.
Again, the clear winner is the tapland. It hurts when you need to topdeck your fourth land and it happens to come into play tapped, but often you can play it on the first turn or slide it into your curve when you play a two-drop on turn 3. The Panorama won’t cause you to miss your four-drop in the above scenario, but if you really need (for example) Blue on turn 4, you won’t be able to play a two-drop and activate your Panorama on turn 3. Obelisks are, in some sense, the worst of all because they usually require you to skip an entire turn or play a spell that is so far below the curve that it is often irrelevant (a two-drop on turn 4). However, they really aren’t all that much worse than a Panorama; any turn you could play a two-drop and crack a Panorama you could also play an Obelisk and then play your creature. The reason Panoramas get the nod here is that you don’t need to crack the Panorama to get mana out of it.
As a special case, Obelisks in the artifact theme deck can have lower initial investment costs due to Etherium Sculptor. Playing a Sculptor on the second turn will allow you to play an Obelisk and a three-drop (or colored two-drop) on the third turn. At that point, the Obelisk is almost as powerful as a tapland, and the acceleration it provides can boost you ahead to something absurd like a fourth-turn Sharding Sphinx (or even just a Steelclad Serpent against someone who just managed to play a Hissing Iguanar).
Related to this is the “speed” with which your fixer gets you your colors. Here, the Obelisk is the clear winner. After all, it’s the only fixer that will let you cast your Skeletonize the turn you draw it; Panoramas and Taplands will need an untap step (or Fatestitcher) to start giving you your mana. This means that you’d rather have a tapland on turn 1 and an Obelisk on turn 8.
Here I’m looking at how the inclusion of the fixer changes how you build your deck. Taplands really require no extra thought at all; you put them in your deck and they’re a land. Panoramas actually interact with the rest of your lands, though. In a game, this means that activating a Panorama will thin your deck of lands in general, and of one color of mana in specific. Therefore, if you’re looking to get lucky and splash something like Battlegrace Angel, two Panoramas and two Plains are going to get the job done much less frequently than two Taplands and two Plains. During construction, then, you need to think about what fetching a land out of your deck actually means; you can’t splash a Cruel Ultimatum off one Island, no matter how many Panoramas you might have. This also means that you might not want to try to run something like Godsire when you’re sporting five Panoramas, as thinning out those lands makes it harder and harder to actually get eight sources of mana into play.
Obelisks take a pretty big hit in this department due to the fact that you often need to cut a spell for them. You might remember that many people lived by the rule of thumb (in Ravnica Block) that you could cut half of a land from your deck for ever Signet you had. Unfortunately, you can’t really do the same with Obelisks because a two-land plus Obelisk hand is much less attractive than a two-land plus Signet hand. In the end, this means that overloading on Obelisks can cause you to flood out, as a deck with just two Obelisks is almost 50% mana.
Taplands – In my mind, far and away the best fixers Shards draft has to offer. Because they are the best at what they do and because they appear at Uncommon only, you need to pick these very highly. I would not be disappointed at all to first-pick a Tapland that gave me three relevant colors, and I still wouldn’t mind first-picking one that only provided two colors. Taplands are great at fixing mana for aggressive decks looking to cast Goblin Deathraiders, control decks looking to cast Kiss of the Amesha on the splash, and Greedy decks trying to power up their Rhox War Monks and Tower Gargoyles.
Panoramas – As time goes on, I pick these lower and lower. In an aggressive deck, I’d much rather just try to draft a traditional two-color deck splashing for something powerful like Branching Bolt than try to assemble a three-color deck built on Panoramas. This is because all the Panoramas in the world won’t let me cast my Rip-Clan Crashers on turn 2, and playing a Cylian Elf plus any three-drop is better than activating my land and then playing the Crasher a turn late. On the other hand, if I’m drafting a more controlling deck, or a deck with easy to cast early drops, Panoramas go up in value. This is because the initial investment they demand isn’t as disruptive to my game plan, and so the fixing they provide becomes worth the cost. This means that in a focused aggressive deck looking to play multicolor two-drops, I only pick the Panoramas over marginal spells in my color (like Volcanic Submersion or Shore Snapper), while I pick them third through fifth (or so) when I can afford to spend time fixing.
Obelisks – Like Panoramas, these do not really help aggressive decks. The times when I pick them for such decks are the ones when I’m in a base Red/Green deck with a Rakeclaw Gargantuan or two, or other similar situation. In other words, I use Obelisks to fix late-game drops with difficult costs (also included here are Carrion Thrash, Waveskimmer Aven, and so on). In control decks, again, the costs of playing these goes way down as they don’t necessarily interfere with your plan for winning the game. However, you do need to make sure that you don’t simply roll over and die; you might just die if your first play is a third-turn Obelisk when your opponent already has a Wild Nacatl and two Cylian Elves in play. Therefore, in aggressive decks I don’t take Obelisks until there are basically no other options, and I only draft them higher than fifth or so when I know that I have my defenses taken care of in control decks.
As I read over what I’ve written, it sounds as though I really don’t like Panoramas or Obelisks in aggressive decks. This is true. However, it means that drafting in my style requires you to pay attention to your mana costs as you go through the draft. Picking Rip-Clan Crasher in your Red/Green deck is certainly nice, but picking it over Cylian Elf for your Green/White deck that also happens to have Branching Bolt in it is a mistake. My successful aggressive decks are regularly two colors with the smallest of splashes for the third color, if it has one at all. I also try to favor easy-to-cast spells over ones that are slightly more powerful but much harder to cast. I keep coming back to Cylian Elf, but that’s because of how perfectly it makes my point. Steward of Valeron is certainly better than the Elf, but it’s not so much better than it that you should auto-pick it when you’re in Green/White, just because a Cylian Elf in play is better than a Steward in your hand.
On the other hand, controlling decks don’t need to spend the same amount of time worrying about these things. Here, the poster child is Tidehollow Strix. In a Blue/Black Control deck, you won’t mind it if the Strix comes out on turn 5 alongside an Executioner’s Capsule, because the point of the Strix (in your deck) is to trade up for one of your opponent’s creatures, not to swing for the fences on turn 3. So even if your deck is Black/White splashing Blue, the Strix is probably going to be the pick over something like Dregscape Zombie because your plan allows you to spend time fixing your mana and then play power spells.
I think that this is an extremely deep topic, especially given how simple it looks on the surface. I’d love to continue to discuss it in the forums.
Bonus: The Evolution of Sharuum
- 2 Soul Warden
- 2 Loyal Sentry
- 3 Mulldrifter
- 2 Reveillark
- 3 Order of Whiteclay
- 1 Rhys the Redeemed
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 3 Sharuum the Hegemon
- 4 Tidehollow Sculler
Since last week, I’ve cut the Sculpting Steels, Masticores, and Scourglass. This makes Sharuum’s trigger much less powerful, and the combo harder to pull off, but I am not convinced that this is a bad thing. Sharuum as a Dragon is just fine, and Sharuum as a Cantrip Dragon (crack a Mind Stone and regrow it) is even better. He often brings back Sculler to clear out the Unmake or whatever that was scheduled to deal with it, and the combo still exists.
I’ve also trimmed the numbers on Soul Warden and cut the Undercurrents. I found that drawing Soul Warden was often pretty bad, especially on those turns when I really wanted something to jumpstart my engine. Given that we’re not really looking to curve out on anyone, I’m pretty sure that two Wardens and two Rangers is better in every relevant situation than four Wardens.
Ranger of Eos also allowed me to play two creatures that I like quite a bit. Loyal Sentry is a card most people I talk to don’t even know exists, but it’s actually quite strong. It demands a removal spell or it will trade with Ashenmoor Gouger, Chameleon Colossus, and Doran. In the case of Doran, it even makes the trade before damage is assigned, and so those attacking Birds of Paradise looking to finish the job become rather embarrassing.
Rhys the Redeemed is a one-drop to tutor up that can win the game on a stalled board. It also happens to make a nice little package with Soul Warden; you gain a life immediately, and then begin to gain more and more until a deck like Elves or White Weenie simply can’t keep up.
Filling the deck with little guys that tended to die made me want a way to get them back. Enter Reveillark and his best friend Mulldrifter. Both of these cards give you a jolt of gas, and Reveillark is especially tasty alongside Makeshift Mannequin. Mulldrifter has taken the spot of Esper Charm, which hurts our game against Bitterblossom. However, the deck overall has gotten better and better there, so I think that’s essentially a wash.
The last card to bring up is Order of Whiteclay. Like Dire Undercurrents, time might show that the card is too slow and gimmicky, but for now I quite like it. Simply being a Horned Turtle is good against Kitchen Finks and various other monsters, and the untap ability lets you get additional use out of something like Loyal Sentry. Since I don’t have a way to activate him other than attacking, he’s not the best way to refresh your lost creatures, but dropping him after a Wrath of God goes a long way to locking games up.
The sideboard is unlisted still, but I know that it includes Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender. Nothing much feels dirtier that pulling two of these guys out of your deck with Ranger of Eos, and they’re especially good when you might find yourself up against Manabarbs. You’ll also want Wispmares for Bitterblossom, the aforementioned Barbs, and possible Everlasting Torments, as well as a big discard spell like Mind Shatter against Five-Color Control. Thoughtseize was nice, but this deck doesn’t have a strong enough draw engine to support winning with one-for-one discard.
All in all, the deck is still a work in progress. However, it’s been a blast to play over the past week, and it’s been presenting very favorable results against aggressive decks and control decks. Tempo decks, however, continue to be my greatest enemy. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a breakout success in the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open…
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM