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The Weekly Guild Build: Beating The Mana Gods

One of the things about being a Christian Magic player is that the instructions are right in the Bible: You shall have no other gods besides Me. But it’s hard to remember that when the Mana Gods are crapping on your forehead.

One of the things about being a Christian Magic player is that the instructions are right in the Bible: You shall have no other gods besides Me. But it’s hard to remember that when the Mana Gods are crapping on your forehead.

“Please, Mana Gods,” you moan pitifully, your hand trembling as you click the “mulligan” button, “I don’t know what I did to piss you off, but please stop screwing me…”

When the Mana Gods frown on you, you start trying to figure out what they want. You try pile shuffling, since the Mana Gods love pile shuffling. You try to go for a total deck reset, since the Mana Gods are the lords of perfect randomization, and perfect randomization = good hands. Then you try to find the sort of deck cut the Mana Gods are looking for — do the Mana Gods want you to cut low in the deck, or just snag the first ten cards off the top?

And when you’re low on mana, the Mana Gods want you to thump the top of your deck. That gets the Mana Gods’ attention, and it always gets you out of a land screw.

I actually went a year without mana problems, but I made a vast sacrifice to the Mana Gods. At a side event in Pro Tour: Los Angeles, I got the perfect Invasion Sealed deck, with five Green mana fixers to power out a strong four-color Green deck. And of course, in three out of my first five games, I got Green-screwed.

So I shredded the deck. Even the rares. I tore them into little tiny bits of cardboard, and then carried them around in a box with me for a year. Before every match, I’d get out the box and rattle it at my deck like a witch doctor.

I did this to them!” I’d shriek. “And I’ll do this to you! Don’t think I won’t! You give me the right mana when I need it, or else!

My hands were golden ’til I lost the box. My cards knew I’d do it.

Alas, as I said, I’m a Christian. And because of that, I can’t believe in the false Mana Gods. Partially it’s because I don’t want to go to the big H-E-double-hockey-sticks and explain to the other sinners that I’m burning in the Crimson Pit of Doggie Doo because I thought an omnipotent diety existed just to short me on Forests

…but realistically, it’s because believing in Mana Gods is a good way of ignoring the very real mistakes you make in building decks with crappy mana bases, and not mulliganing when you should, and shuffling in a half-assed way.

Mana screw happens. Mana flood happens. But the fact is, though Magic’s partially a game of chance, it’s more a game of skill. And though it’d be nice to wave a dead chicken at the Mana Gods and hope that I lucksack my way out of situations, I’d be better off trying to figure out where I’m screwing up and leaving the rest in the hands of the universe.

Funnily enough, I believe that about the real God, too; if you’re waiting for the helicopters, you’re gonna miss the three boats, assuming you know that old joke. If not, well, I guess you’d better ask the Mana Gods to tell it to you.

Anyway. My return to Magic has been hailed by hands filled with manaflood and manascrew. I’m winning only one out of every five games at this point, but at least two of the losses aren’t my fault.

  • In one game out of every five, I get outplayed. Let’s be honest here; I’m still learning the format, to the point where my “Sense when my opponent has the Devouring Light” skills are only just now coming on line.
  • In one game out of every five, he has the better draw. No shame in that; sometimes you just get run over.
  • In one game out of every five, I’m getting absolutely manascrewed. How can you do anything when you have only three lands?
  • In one game out of every five, I make the game-dropping misclick. Damn, that hurts. I was playing a game where I had this conversation while we were prepping the decks for Game 2:

Opponent: Man, if you’d had a combat trick it would have been over for me.

Ferrett: I did. I unattached my Sunforger, it told me to play the Devouring Light, and then I got the “game over.” I have no idea what happened.

Opponent: Oh.

Ferrett: No worries, I’m sure I’ll misclick my way to a loss in Game 2 as well.

Learning the ins and outs of MODO is a little vexing, because I’m still not sure where my stops should be set. MODO keeps gaily skipping past my opportunities to tap attackers before combat, and occasionally I’ll just miss my chance to do anything before damage on the stack, and I’m not sure why. Figuring this out will be part of the fun.

But then we have the happy fifth game:

  • And finally, I win one game out of every five because I am a total lucksack.

As you can clearly see, I should be winning three out of five games, meaning that in the imaginary world I live in, I will shortly have an 1850 rating and routinely beat Kai Budde. But that doesn’t happen, so I have to look at my real-world skills… And that means that I have to check my mana.

Yes, I’m getting mana screwed a lot. Why does that happen? The easy route is to claim that the Mana Gods hate me… But instead, I decided that somehow, it must be my fault. There can be only two reasons for my continual mana botches: Either my mulliganing skills have deteriorated, or my mana bases suck, or both. So in the interests of seeing where I could go wrong, I decided to email The Cak, Matt Vienneau, and Nick Eisel to ask them, “Say, what do you think of this deck and these decisions?”

But before I continue, let me show you my card pool for this week.

Red:
1 Smash
1 Goblin Spelunkers
1 Barbarian Riftcutter
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Incite Hysteria
1 Ordruun Commando
1 Sell-Sword Brute
1 Sparkmage Apprentice
1 Surge of Zeal
1 Viashino Slasher
1 War-Torch Goblin

White:
1 Benevolent Ancestor
1 Devouring Light
1 Dromad Purebred
1 Gate Hound
1 Nightguard Patrol
1 Sandsower
1 Veteran Armorer
1 Votary of the Conclave

Black:
1 Brainspoil
1 Clinging Darkness
1 Disembowel
1 Necromantic Thirst
1 Netherborn Phalanx
1 Ribbons of Night
1 Roofstalker Wight
1 Sewerdreg
1 Shred Memory
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Strands of Undeath
1 Undercity Shade
1 Woebringer Demon

Green:
1 Bramble Elemental
1 Chord of Calling
1 Golgari Brownscale
1 Greater Mossdog
1 Scatter the Seeds
1 Siege Wurm
1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant

Blue:
1 Drake Familiar
1 Ethereal Usher
1 Hunted Phantasm
1 Leave No Trace
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Peel from Reality
1 Remand
1 Stasis Cell
1 Surveilling Sprite
1 Telling Time
1 Vedalken Entrancer

Selesnya:
1 Congregation at Dawn
1 Pollenbright Wings
1 Seeds of Strength

Dimir:
1 Consult the Necrosages
1 Lurking Informant
1 Psychic Drain

Golgari:
1 Bloodbond March
1 Gaze of the Gorgon
1 Golgari Guildmage
1 Golgari Rotwurm

Boros:
1 Boros Guildmage
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Rally the Righteous
1 Skyknight Legionnaire

Artifacts
1 Boros Signet
1 Dimir Signet
1 Golgari Signet
1 Selesnya Signet
1 Sunforger
1 Terrarion

Artifact Creatures
1 Glass Golem

Lands
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Sunhome, Fortress Of The Legion

(If you’d like to download this card pool and fool around with it, click here.)

Now, here’s what this card pool is notable for, in my mind: You have some very nice Selesnya cards, including the critter-Tutor Congregation at Dawn. And the White, while not exceptional, has some stalwarts.

The Green! The Green is so strong! It’s got solid creatures, hefty beef, and…

…and…

and every single frickin’ Green card has double-Green mana. (Well, except for the Greater Mossdog.) I can’t splash Green, since it’s gotta be a main color, and I have no mana fixers except for a buttload of Signets, so if I go with that I’ll never be able to cast anything. (Though G/W/b seems reasonable.)

Given the wild disarray here, I’m going to rate this card pool a four; not awful, but not something I’d want to open. (Kindly share your judgement of the card pool in the forums when you’re done here, and don’t forget to tip your waiter before you leave.)

Instead, I looked at the power of the Black and the Red and decided to splash White for some of the nice Boros, getting this weirdy little mixture:

7 Mountain
3 Plains
6 Swamp
1 Goblin Spelunkers
1 Barbarian Riftcutter
1 Boros Guildmage
1 Boros Signet
1 Brainspoil
1 Clinging Darkness
1 Disembowel
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Glass Golem
1 Incite Hysteria
1 Netherborn Phalanx
1 Ordruun Commando
1 Rally the Righteous
1 Ribbons of Night
1 Sell-Sword Brute
1 Sewerdreg
1 Skyknight Legionnaire
1 Sparkmage Apprentice
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Strands of Undeath
1 Sunforger
1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
1 War-Torch Goblin

I sent this deck to The Cak, Matt Vienneau, and Nick Eisel, and they stroked my brow and told me what a great player I was! Look at these accolades!

John Pelcak:
“This deck is terrible. You are not going to be able to cast any of the spells because the mana base is so awful. You have some good black removal spells, but that’s about the only thing the deck has going for itself.”

Matt Vienneau:
“The deck is a mess – you’re splashing white and yet have a bunch of fast Boros cards. That just doesn’t work.”

Nick Eisel:
“Part of the problem here is that this is an obscure deck and it’s going to be hard to get a great draw most of the time just because a lot of the cards aren’t cohesive.”

Well, if I wanted confirmation that there were no Mana Gods, here ya go. Apparently, I don’t know how to build a good mana base, and it’s taking me in the shorts.

But why is that? I learned mana from [author name="Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar"]Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar’s[/author] excellent article on the topic a long time ago, and it’s worked well for me. Basically, his method for building mana bases involves you going through each color and doing the following calculations:

  1. Count the number the single-mana cards you have. Ribbons of Night, which costs 4B, would be one Black card. In the deck above, there are six single-Black cards, for a total of six.
  2. Count all of the double-mana cards; for example, Sewerdreg, which costs 3BB, is a double-mana card. Each double-mana card counts as 1.5 of that mana. In the deck above, we have both Brainspoil and Sewerdreg, for a total of three.
  3. Add the two together. This deck has a total of nine Black mana symbols.

When you’ve done this for each of the colors in your deck, you add them all together like so:

9 Black mana units total

14 Red mana units total

4 White mana units total

27 Mana units total

Next, figure out what the percentages of your mana base should be:

9 / 27 = 33% Swamps,

14 / 27 = 51.8% Mountains

4 / 27 = 14.8% Plains*

So if I applied Jay’s logic to this deck, assuming I was going with seventeen lands, I’d want six Swamps, nine Mountains, and three Plains. As it was, I had seven Mountains, three Plains, six Swamps, a Sunhome to the Legion, and a Signet.

That’s not too far, off, really — I was only short two Mountains! But there are some very good reasons why this configuration is just asking for mana screw.

First of all, I’ve finally doped out that except in rare situations, when you’re going three colors you have to consider the activation-lands like Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree and Svogthos, the Restless Tomb as a spell. They clog your mana base because they don’t produce colored mana, and you need mondo mana to activate them, so thinking of them as a land drop is going to run you into mana-screw a lot — half the time, you’ll wind up wishing they were a Forest or a Swamp, and the other half you’ll be short on the four mana minimum it takes to activate them.

As such, blindly dropping in the Sunhome to help out my creatures was foolish; I should have taken out a card to stuff it in, most likely the highly situational Incite Hysteria (which, to be fair, I was trying out not because I thought it was great, but because I wanted to see whether it was a good Falter effect).

But that alone wouldn’t do it. The real problem, as all three writers correctly noted, was that the deck had no synergy. My splash cards were powerful, yes… In the early game. I wanted the power of Boros, but I forgot the strength of Boros is a quick rush. That third-turn Skyknight Legionnaire is a great play, but the sixth-turn Skyknight Legionnaire isn’t so strong. At the time I most needed the White mana, it was the least likely to be there.

Which led to the third and final problem: Desperation. When you’re running effectively sixteen lands in a three-color deck that needs early mana of your off-color, you need to mulligan more aggressively. I was keeping hands just because I was so relieved that they had the right color mana, which meant that I wasn’t looking at the spells I’d be casting — this is also a critter-light build, so often I’d be long on removal, short on offense — and getting screwed by proxy.

I was getting manascrewed, yes…. But it was my fault. No Mana Gods were touching my deck; I had screwed it up all on my own.

Taking their advice to heart, I rebuilt the deck and took it for another spin with a much heavier Boros emphasis:

7 Mountain
6 Plains
3 Swamp
1 Goblin Spelunkers
1 Barbarian Riftcutter
1 Benevolent Ancestor
1 Boros Guildmage
1 Boros Signet
1 Clinging Darkness
1 Devouring Light
1 Disembowel
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Glass Golem
1 Nightguard Patrol
1 Ordruun Commando
1 Rally the Righteous
1 Ribbons of Night
1 Sandsower
1 Sell-Sword Brute
1 Skyknight Legionnaire
1 Sparkmage Apprentice
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Sunforger
1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
1 Veteran Armorer
1 War-Torch Goblin

This one functioned almost perfectly from a mana perspective, choking on me only when I should have mulliganed and didn’t have the guts to do it. It was a solid Boros-style deck that, well…

…lost. A lot. In my single-minded quest to “OMG FIX TEH MANA SCREW,” I forgot that Sealed is largely about power… And this particular deck doesn’t have enough of it. Time after time I came out with an early rush, got my opponent to six, and then got muscled under by increasingly beefy creatures with no real way of punching through. My only real route to victory was on the back of a Skyknight Legionnaire or an overwhelming turns 2-through-6 swarm of critters… And when that didn’t happen, I lost.

It was a much better deck in many ways, but in the end it was weak. (I mean, it only has three creatures with a three toughness or greater, and only one of them can attack!) I tried a mostly Black/Green build, which seemed to have a little more power and mana consistency, but the jury’s out on that one since I moved onto a new League.

The lesson, of course, is that it’s not the Mana Gods who screw you. I’ve been building my decks with shoddy mana, and I’ve been paying for it in manascrew. If you too are bitching about continually coming up short, well….

…Maybe you should take a look at your decks.

Extra-Special Bonus Section: What’s The Right Call?
In addition to the usual analysis and card pool, every week I’ll be bringing you a situation taken straight from a game I was in; you tell me what the right call is. In this particular example, use the first deck that I mentioned — the one with the crappy mana base.

Your opponent’s board:
4 Swamps
1 Golgari Rot Farm
2 Islands
1 Bloodletter Quill
1 Golgari Signet

All he has left untapped is the island. He’s cast a Drooling Groodion and a Moroii over the past two turns, which you’ve killed, and you know he has more beef in the deck… But unfortunately, he has the following critters out:

1 Sewerdreg
1 freshly-cast Necroplasm with no counters yet

He has been abusing the hell out of the Quill, and that’s a large part of the reason he’s down to eight life, but he has zero cards in hand.

You, on the other hand, have only a sole Sparkmage Apprentice and an unattached Sunforger on the board. The Rally the Righteous is in the graveyard, so the ‘Forger’s just a massive attack bonus. You have three Mountains, three Swamps, and a Plains to work with.

In your hand are two cards: Incite Hysteria, and Strands of Undeath. You are at sixteen life.

What’s the right play?

Next week:
I’ll tell you what Pelcak, Vienneau, and Eisel said they’d do, and both Eisel and Pelcak said it was a no-brainer. In the meantime, why don’t you tell me what you would have done (and how you would have built the deck) in our forums?

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

* – Jay’s article goes into more detail on what to do when you have mana accelerators, so if you’re going to criticize the method, read the article. I’m honestly still not sure how the bouncelands figure into it, or whether loading up on the B-lands (as in, “two or more in the same deck”) is a good thing or not.