Remie’s Return: The Art of the Manabase

After a month-long break in which he toured America, Jeroen is back with a bang! He picks up where he left off, answering reader’s questions and queries. Today’s article covers the art of the Limited manabase. How many lands? How many accelerants? When and where is it appropriate to splash? He also lifts the lid on the pro player mindset, revealing the depth of their involvement with Wizards and official decisions… Jeroen, it’s good to have you back!

I’m back!

After a break of a little under a month, I return to answer all your burning questions.

I am smack in the middle of testing Standard and drafting at the moment, since Dutch nationals is coming up, and I am trying hard to get back into things. It never became more apparent to me than this last vacation just how fast a game like Magic: The Gathering develops, and how you have to work hard to stay on top of things. When I left, Solar Flare wasn’t even a deck. Olivier Ruel was still Wizards of the Coast’s pet pro, on top of the world. How fast things change… people get banned, Solar Flare is already on its way out, and RGD is old news. That’s why I hope this article isn’t too outdated, since I am using some questions from a long time ago (yeah… three weeks). Send me new stuff at [email protected] if you feel I need to get back with the times!

My trip, you ask? I travelled the entire West Coast. I started in Seattle, headed down through Portland and Sacramento, and hit San Francisco. After that I travelled the coast, visiting Monterey Bay, Los Angeles, Carlsbad, and finally ending in San Diego before heading into the Desert. I visited Las Vegas, the World Series of Poker, the Grand Canyon, and Phoenix before taking my flight home, on which I wasn’t allowed to bring any liquid… and I didn’t get checked at any checkpoint to see if I actually had any. What good are rules if you aren’t going to enforce them? They just hurt the good guys.

But enough of that, here are this week’s questions:

The first one is from Damian Murphy:

Playing MTGO (and in real life) I run into problems with "Grog the shuffler." I agree that it is too easy to say that it is always the shuffler’s fault. Of course, sometimes it is the shuffler’s fault, but that is the luck or random factor that is part of the game.

I think the problem that the shuffler highlights is that I have made errors in my deckbuilding. As most of the problems are concerning mana, perhaps you could give some advice on how to build a correct manabase… where people go wrong, what they should consider while drafting, how to support splashes, etc.

Hey Damian,

As I have said on many an occasion before, the shuffler is indeed random, and there is no such thing as a fix, or a “bad shuffler.” You yourself at least have drawn the correct conclusion: if you keep walking into problems, there has to be something going wrong in deckbuilding. The random element that the shuffler adds is the reason that Limited decks run a higher percentage of land than most Constructed decks. Your Constructed deck can survive with three lands in play, but in Limited that means you are done. There are some things people tend to do wrong, and here is a list of things you want to look out for:

Playing too few lands thanks to mana fixers. Sure, having four Signets means you can play fewer lands, but even if you have five you really can’t go lower than fifteen lands, ever. If you do, you run the risk of not drawing two. Of course, this then means you can never run too many Signets, as that will mean you are running too many mana sources in total. Mana fixers are very good, but they can lead to a lot of mistakes. Make sure that you never play more than twenty mana sources, and make sure that your land count stays healthy.

Don’t splash early game spells. I see a lot of people trying to squeeze in an extra color by putting cards like Squall Drifter and Ronom Unicorn in their deck. Often you will have to wait a while before you get to the lands for your splash color, as you will only be running a couple of sources. This means that when you finally get to that color, you will have a very unexciting card if you concentrate on low-end plays. If you are splashing, make sure that the card is worth it at any point of the game. Removal spells, bombs, that kind of stuff. Then when you finally draw that color, you will have a card that does something special!

Only splash when you have to. Sure, the bouncelands make it easy to run a lot of colors, and all those gold cards make it you want to play all of them, but more games are lost via color-screw than anything else. Don’t push it.

This list isn’t conclusive, and there is a lot more to pick up, but it’s something to think about. On that note…

Dennis Kreba asked the next question:

Could look at a draft deck to see if I built the deck correctly, and tell me if the manabase looks okay? I have three bounce lands, and three Signets (with another on-color Signet in the sideboard), with sixteen total lands. I’m not sure that this is the right manabase.

The deck looks like it should be okay, but it never came together and I lost in round 1 of the draft. Can you recommend the best build for this pool? I don’t think the deck is horrible. But I’m not 100% sure that I built it correctly. (Obviously I wish I’d drafted more graft after first-picking a Manipulator, but it didn’t work out.)

I did manage to put a counter on my opponent’s creature once, with the Hydropon, and steal it. He had Repeal for my Manipulator and won the game before I could steal it again.

The thing this deck clearly does wrong is that it is trying to add another color to an already unstable three-color base. It is clear that the core of the deck is U/G, with the Hydropons, the Coiling Oracle, and the abundance of Blue and Green spells. Note that double Hydropon and Coiling Oracle mean that you have to have both Blue and Green mana as early as turn 2 or 3, and the heavy Blue requirements of Cytoplast Manipulator and Train of Thought means you also want lots of Blue. You clearly do not have enough good spells to play two colors, so then you start looking at the alternatives. You chose to splash White for Overrule (a filler card at best), Aurora Eidolon, the early-game card Selesnya Evangel (remember what we just discussed about early-game cards?), and the double White (and hence almost unsplashable) Conclave Equenaut as your only White cards! Add to that the splash for Streetbreaker Wurm as your only Red card, and you have two splashes that don’t really work.

I would cut the White, since I feel the Streetbreaker Wurm alone is better then all the White cards combined. I would add Petrahydrox, Enigma Eidolon, Wee Dragonauts, Convolute, and an Izzet Chronarch to substitute the cards we cut. That means you get to play more Islands and Forests, meaning your deck will come out of the gates faster. Heck, you have four great targets for the Chronarchs, so maybe I would even run the other one as well. Your manabase will then look something like this:

6 Island
5 Forest
2 Mountain
Gruul Turf
Azorius Chancery
Selesnya Sanctuary
Izzet Signet
Simic Signet

I feel that makes the deck a lot stronger, despite not making the curve any better, but not worse either. Note that your deck is pretty expensive. I choose to run the two Karoos in White anyway, since they are better than an extra Island and Forest. Also remember that, with a little focus, this deck could have ended up being far more streamlined, and would have looked a lot better. Don’t set out to draft and then build your deck. Make sure you have your deck in mind when you are drafting.

A couple of you took the time to email me in agreement on the article I wrote just before I went on vacation, regarding Coldsnap. Though I was harsh, I still think I was right in all my points. I don’t feel it is the end of the world, as Time Spiral will be here soon enough to make sure we’ll never have to draft this format again. Thanks to Robert Seder and Jeff Kokx, amongst others, as well as the people in the forums, for dropping a note. Jeffe even had a question regarding this whole thing:

How much do the people at Wizards listen to the pros that play their game, those who drive their fan-base to compete more and more? If you collectively hate a set, do they pay attention and heed your opinions? Or do they call you whiners and tell you to deal with it? I’ve always wanted to know how much you guys mean to them. Or how much you think you mean to them…

To be honest, I am not sure how often the good people of R&D listen to what we have to say. On one hand we pros, as a group, have a valued opinion, and should know what is right and wrong in a set. Often we will have discussions about cards with people like Randy Buehler to make sure we get our say. On the other hand, I am sure we are also seen as a bunch of whiney old maids that will never think what they are doing is good. That’s why I try not to complain too much, and I try to be constructive…which is hard sometimes.

Whether Wizards personnel listens to us or not, the Pro Tour is still the prime testing grounds for what works and what doesn’t, and from every PT I am sure a lot is learned. What we do get a lot of input on are non-card issues, like the Hawaii Pro Tour, which was held mainly because we asked for it.

Finally, a pal of mine sent me an email a while ago regarding the Hall of Fame, which I figured would be nice to include in this article. You might know him, since Stijn van Dongen wrote a couple of amazing articles on this very site a while ago…

Hoi Jeroen,

Alles goed? Uit verveling las ik laatst de regels voor de "Hall of Fame" verkiezingen van Wizards. Toen viel me op dat jij in de selection committee zat – dat is toch alleen voor werknemers of zo? Heb je een baantje?

van Stijn… Drs. Stijn

Since that won’t make a lot of sense to y’all, here’s the translation:

Hey Jeroen,

Everything ok? Out of boredom I was reading the rules for this years Hall of Fame elections and I saw you are part of the selection committee. Isn’t that just for WOTC employees or something? Did you get a job?

Grtz, Stijn.

Hey buddy,

No, despite the fact that I would not mind getting a job at Wizards, I did not get contracted. I am not sure what really happened, but I was approached and asked if I wanted a vote in the committee. Of course I wanted to be part of this. I am one of the most vocal supporters of a Hall of Fame like this, and I love the idea of certain players – ones that have proven their worth in the game, and know the importance of a thing like the Hall – getting votes. I am sure the Powers That Be thought the same thing, and there you have it!

I myself am honored to be chosen in this group, and I’ll make sure to cast my vote. This year’s group is very hard, and I have been thinking about it for the past couple of weeks. I can still go a number of ways.

Speaking of which, I am not sure if you would like to hear about who I’ll be voting for, or if you are even interested in the Hall of Fame at all. Let me know in the forums. If you are interested, I’ll try and add something about the Hall of Fame in my next couple of articles.

That’s it for this week. Make sure to start sending me questions again, at [email protected], as these articles are nowhere without your valued input!