The Kitchen Table #274 – You Have Lost Your Excuse for a Bad Manabase

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Wednesday, February 25th – Today I will be talking about one of the core issues that affect casual deckbuilders, especially those on a budget: Mana. One of the things I intend to do, is walk you through mana over time, and thereby show you what lands are out there for your deckbuilding needs. Not every casual player was playing Magic way back when, so cards like Terminal Moraine or Rainbow Vale might have fallen through the cracks.

Why hello! Welcome to the column dedicated to the casual. Today I will be talking about one of the core issues that affect casual deckbuilders, especially those on a budget: Mana. One of the things I intend to do, is walk you through mana over time, and thereby show you what lands are out there for your deckbuilding needs. Not every casual player was playing Magic way back when, so cards like Terminal Moraine or Rainbow Vale might have fallen through the cracks.

Budget conscious casual players for years have complained about expensive mana lands. One of the main complaints made about making new dual lands in Ravnica was that WoTC was just making more problems by not solving budget needs.

Mana Before Tempest — The Early Years

Long ago, it used to be that casual players did not have good manabases. Your only real options were the ten dual lands and City of Brass. These all had a cost attached to them that was significant. Besides, if you have just $10 to spend on some cards, would you want to buy just one dual land, or several cards like Shivan Dragon or Vesuvan Doppelganger? Those cards would have an impact on your game far surpassing the single dual land.

Fallen Empires gave us two cycles of lands, but none really helped at fixing manabases, except the Rainbow Vale which had a huge disadvantage. Then Ice Age came out. Although one of the two cycles at rare was pure crap, the five pain lands were the best cycle of mana fixing lands we would get until Ravnica.

However, because of their playabilty and rarity, they also gained some value. The five painlands became highly desired rares from the set as people tried to collect many for their decks.

Several sets came and went. Homelands did not add anything serious. Alliances had Thawing Glaciers, but nothing else that smoothed mana. Mirage had fetchlands in uncommon slots, but their comes-into-play-tapped status kept them from being major players. Visions Karoo lands were slow, while Undiscovered Paradise was a true contribution to fixing mana. Lotus Vale from Weatherlight could fix your mana but exposed you to land destruction or bounce effects.

Therefore, by the time Tempest came around, from all of the sets of magic, here are the good cards at fixing your manabase:

10 Dual lands
City of Brass
5 Painlands
Thawing Glaciers
Undiscovered Paradise

5 Mirage fetches/Lotus Vale (sorta).

Mana in Tempest through Saviors of Kamigawa — Business as Usual

Then Rath Cycle came along. It added bulk, but not value.

Ancient Tomb was the first true land accelerant of power, and City of Traitors joined it. They didn’t fix your mana, but they accelerated it. The Urzatron existed, of course, but none of the helper cards like Crop Rotation or Sylvan Scrying had been made, so it was largely relegated to casual only decks that just got lucky and drew the right pieces. Thus, Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors were very impactful in getting wins.

The Tempest uncommon cycle of slowlands that could tap for colorless as well was decent for casual players because they were so cheap, but they weren’t that good. Reflecting Pool can make you double mana, but it cannot give you mana that you cannot make; still, as a supplement to other lands, it can be quite good.

The rare cycle of comes-into-play-tapped enemy pain lands from Tempest was poorly received. However, some budget players embraced them as the cheaper alternatives to massively expensive dual lands.

Wasteland might be good for tournaments, but it does nothing to smooth your mana. You’ll note that I kept out cards like Mishra’s Factory or Strip Mine for the same reason. This is not about good lands, but good manabases.

Urza’s Saga gave us cycling lands and cards like Tolarian Academy and Gaea’s Cradle, but no revolution in manabases. Later sets in this block added man lands, legendary lands, and such, but nothing significant. The only card to help in this block was the very limited Thran Quarry.

Masques block arrived, and it brought Rishadan Port, but nothing for manabases. The common cycle of lands was ineffective and the storage lands were just redone Fallen Empires storage lands. Later lands from the block also did not help to smooth your mana. I mean, no one seriously played Rhystic Cave, for instance.

There was still no innovation in manabases.

After Prophecy, players were stuck with the same selection of cards to smooth their manabase.

The only cards to fix manabases were quite expensive. Thawing Glaciers and Undiscovered Paradise and City of Brass were among the most expensive cards from their sets, and Dual lands were close behind. A decklist with 24 lands easily had 12 Mountains and 12 Swamps.

I remember this era. People complained that mana was too expensive. Building a proper manabase was the most expensive thing in the game to do. The reason that casual players did not run many cards to smooth their mana was because they were expensive.

Then a new block would change everything.

I submit that one of the things that made Invasion block so good was not just the theme or the excitement in the cards, but the revolutionary manabases.

Each set brought a new five-card cycle that would change manabases. The Invasion taplands were perfect mana fixers. Since they were uncommon, they could be played rather easily. They would really help to assist allied manabases.

The Lairs were a tempo loss for mana quality. By tapping for three colors of mana, they could pinpoint and help resolve issues with lands in three color decks.

Finally, Apocalypse ended the block with a bang by adding good enemy color painlands. Highly valued rares, they still gave casual players some bulk to add to their decks.

The result was tremendous. A budget friendly U/B deck could run Salt Marsh to help smooth its mana. My U/W/G Equinaut deck was in part possible trough Treva’s Ruins. We didn’t have to break down and spend a lot of money on Mox Diamond and City of Brass. This was fun!

Then we took a step back. The lands in Odyssey Block were less fortunate. The filter lands were poor, and the Tainted Lands only work in Black heavy decks splashing a color.

It looked like Magic has returned to the days before Invasion block with poor choices for deckbuilders everywhere.

Invasion block didn’t fix every problem.

A Green/Blue control deck didn’t have a tap land for it. The only mana smoothing you could do was Yavimaya Coast, which had a higher price tag that kept it out of the reach of more budget conscious players. Plus, not every deck wants tap lands. A B/R aggro deck that wants to churn out creatures quickly, doesn’t want the Comes-into-play-tapped disadvantage of Urborg Volcano. Additionally, many decks wanted more mana fixing than just four tap lands. A U/B control deck with many counters that have double Blue in the cost and Black spells with the same will want more than 4 Salt Marshes. Underground River and Sea have too much cost to include them. Terminal Moraine was another addition, but it wasn’t that great. (Compare to later Terramorphic Expanse).

Therefore, Magic needed more bulk. Luckily, WoTC was to prove that a new set of lands that could compete with the best mana fixers ever was about to be released. Unfortunately, it was so expensive that it largely stayed out of the hands of budget casual players.

Onslaught came and gave us friendly color fetches. Like previous top value manabase fixers, these fetched a severe price on the secondary market, leaving most budget players only one way to get them — open them in a pack. It also added Grand Coliseum to the land pool, which is a nice alternative to more expensive mana fixing. It did add to the variety of mana fixing available, yet since all of these options were rare, it did little help to budget players.

The rest of the block gave very few lands of any meaning to players except perhaps for Krosan Verge, in the right circumstances.

Mirrodin arrived and with it came the common artifact lands which were interesting, but did not help to smooth mana. Glimmervoid was popular in artifact heavy decks, and Mirrodin’s Core, which was acceptable, but nothing really satisfying.

Kamigawa Block gave casual players the same slow lands Tempest gave. Tendo Ice Bridge might be good for tournaments that are expected to end quickly, but it’s lousy for casual players with longer games. Forbidden Orchard isn’t that bad, especially in multiplayer, but it’s not even as good as Rainbow Vale.

Thus, up through Kamigawa block, from Tempest on, here are the good additions to smooth mana:

5 Invasion taplands
5 Lairs
5 Enemy Painlands
5 Fetches
Reflecting Pool
Grand Coliseum
Mirrodin’s Core
Terminal Moraine
Glimmervoid, Thran Quarry, Krosan Verge (sorta).

That’s it. From Tempest through Saviors of Kamigawa, 24 entire sets, those were the good additions to land building. Some of these aren’t even budget friendly, like the fetches and the painlands.

The complaints continued and quite rightfully. You had to spend the cash to build a good manabase. Decks were getting made with 12 Plains, 1 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and 11 Mountains.

Then Wizards of the Coast began a mana revolution.

The Mana Revolution — Ravnica and On

Ravnica block arrived and changed everything. Sure, the banner lands from this block were the ten rares that were the best mana lands since the original dual lands. They were great! And they had a lot of value, too. However, budget players now had an option in every single double color combination:

The common Karoo lands.

They aren’t perfect lands. They don’t go in every deck. But these common lands single-handedly began a modern day mana revolution that continues through Conflux. They come with a heavy tempo hit and like Lotus Value are weak to land destruction and bounce, but they give budget players as many lands as they want to begin the project of fixing their manabase.

Now your U/B control budget deck can pack Salt Marsh and Dimir Aqueduct. Now your B/W deck has a land to play on the cheap, instead of trying for Caves of Koilos or Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author].

Like I said, what was needed was lands in bulk, to add to the density of mana options available to casual deck builders. These lands were the beginning, but it did not end there.

Despite being a one-of set, Coldsnap introduced a new set of allied taplands just like the Invasion ones (but they made snow mana too). This helped to increase the density of lands even more, but there was more come.

For the first time, there were good storage lands in Time Spiral, which gave you two colors of mana instead of one. Time Spiral block also gave you Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in order to end your Black mana needs. Terramorphic Expanse was another amazing common tool for casual deckbuilders everywhere. It could find a home in any multicolor deck from 2 to 5 colors and any combination of colors.

Other cards from the set include Vesuva, which can be useful, and the cycle from Future Sight that featured some good, and some not so good cards of making allied color mana. Lastly, we have Tolaria West, which can be transmuted to get any land from your deck or played for Blue mana.

The tools are increasing in each set!

Ravnica and its super block didn’t slow this down. There are the creature type lands, which for the most part are cheap. Ancient Amphitheater, for example, is basically a tap land for R/W and only costs a buck and a half these days. Adding it to a deck, even one devoid of Giants, is perfectly fine.

The hybrid filter lands are more expensive because they have value in type two, but adding ten rare lands to the list of expansive lands is fine, because so many tools have been added to the casual deckbuilder.

Even Murmuring Bosk is down to 4 dollars.

Shimmering Grotto might not be great, but it is still a lot better than the older embarrassing Five Color lands like Rhystic Cave or Tarnished Citadel or School of the Unseen.

And let us not forget the awesome Vivid lands. These give deck builders even more tools to smooth their manabase and get the right mixture of lands.

With the recent block continuing this theme, perhaps there will be no end in sight. The tritaps are beautifully done, and give decks a great option for smoothing their mana needs. As uncommons, they are easily available for players who want to add some power to their manabase on the cheap.

The Panoramas are another great tool, because they can tap for mana early, and then search up a land when you need too later.

Ancient Ziggurat can fix creature manabases forever. I love Exotic Orchard. It makes all colors at a multiplayer table, and it has no drawback. It’s a four of in almost any deck you expect to play at the multiplayer table in decks with 3 or more colors. Rupture Spire is perfect at making any color of mana with a minor tempo loss when you play it. Even Unstable Frontier has some value in both getting you to Domain earlier and making the right mana.

The Results

Budget casual players have different challenges than tournament players. We all know players who want to build 12, 15 or 20 decks at a time and have them in a stable of boxes. On the other hand, some tournament players try to perfect one or two decks, and as such, they have more money and dedication to each one, and can afford the best manabase.

The causal budget-conscious player, however, simply doesn’t have the resources to drop money on duals, pain lands, fetches, hybrid filter, new duals, or other expensive lands. What they can do is get many of the uncommon and common lands for their decks, and finally, that is now enough. There are finally enough cheap lands out there to go around and to suit most deck needs.

In my article, “When the Mana Comes Around,” I point out that every casual collection will be different, and I say that I will steer clear of manabases that might not be casual friendly, instead preferring simple and clear manabases that the individual reader can salt to taste.

Starting today, that will no longer be the case. Well, actually, starting a few articles that will no longer be the case. I have already incorporated the cheap options into my decks such as Ancient Amphitheater. You are going to start seeing lands like Rupture Spire or cheap rares like Grand Coliseum in my decks.

However, what this means is that there is no longer any excuse to have a manabase that looks like it was attached to a deck 5 years ago. 12 Islands, 12 Mountains is not acceptable. There are a large number of great uncommon and commons that will make your deck better. The old “WoTC screws us over by not printing cards for us” whine is gone. We have a ton of cards to choose from, and all at a cheap cost. You can get Terramorphic Expanse, the Ravnica Karoos, Rupture Spire, Panoramas and such for virtually no money at all. Taplands, lairs, tritaps, Vivid lands, and other uncommon lands cost less than a buck to a buck each.

Start picking up these lands. Start adding them to your decks. For $10 you can buy so many special lands you and revolutionize your decks. No longer are the only two options $10 to just buy one land to smooth your mana or to buy several powerful cards. Now you have a third option — to pick up a bunch of lands to smooth and fix your manabase in a variety of decks.

This is the best time of our mana lives. Go out there and live it!

Until later…

Abe Sargent