You CAN Play Type I #33: The Control Player’s Bible, Part XIV – Building A 5-Color Mana Base

Mana bases aren’t a flashy subject – but losing to mana screw isn’t, either. How can you improve your draw?

The Control Player’s Bible, Table of Contents:

Part I: Overview

Part II: History, 1994-1996

Part III: History, 1996-2000

Part IV: History, 2000-2002

Part V: A sample control mirror match

Part VI: Playing the core cards: Counters and tutors

Part VII: Playing the core cards: Card drawing and removal

Part VIII: Playing the Sapphires

Part IX: Playing the Jets

Part X: Playing the Pearls

Part XI: Playing the Rubies

Part XII: Playing the Emeralds

Part XIII: The Sol Rings: Rounding out”The Deck”

Part XIV: Building a 5-color Mana Base

My apologies if I haven’t replied to recent mail… Something went loose in my usual computer and I have to get it fixed.

In the meantime, I’m sitting in the law library, mulling over the last final exam and worrying about the next hundred-page legal paper. (Hey… It builds character.)

Anyway, missing my personal Magic archive this week, I’d like to try something different. The”Control Player’s Bible” is turning into a set of loosely-related notes on staple cards and strategies, and it’s fun to put it all under one name.

There’s a Type I topic that isn’t flashy at all, but covers at least 50% of all beginners’ mistakes…

“The Deck” is the most familiar Type I example, but the principles involved are actually highlighted in Limited.

Is There Really Such A Thing As A 5-Color Deck?

I emphasized in the past articles that there isn’t.

Did you ever try putting together a Domain deck in Limited during Invasion? Wasn’t it fun abusing all those color fixers? Well, a spell isn’t worth much if you can’t cast it, so you had to make sure you could play those color fixers in the first place, right?

Thus, your”5-color” deck was mainly green.

And for consistency’s sake, you probably ran more cards of another color, so you could run the basic land for that secondary color without having to rely on the color fixers.

So the truth is, your”5-color” deck was really a G/x deck with a lot of fun splashed cards. If you tried to really run five colors, your deck would’ve been steamrolled by the time it got its mana together. (Go try playing the actual contents of a starter box if you need to know what I mean.)

The primary/secondary/splash framework is just as important in Type I… So don’t let the dual lands lure you into a false sense of security. You don’t need to play color fixers, but you still need to hit the ground rolling as early as turn 1.

Every lapse in color consistency can easily be your last.

A Typical 5-Color Mana Base

I could give a few statistical tables, but I don’t want to turn your recreational deckbuilding into an extension of your homework. Let’s go with a few rules of thumb (don’t count Black Lotus in the number of sources):


Number of sources

Primary color


Secondary color


Tertiary color #1


Tertiary color #2


Off color


Twenty-eight is the classic number of mana sources for a Type I control deck with the jewelry. With twenty-seven slots (plus Black Lotus) filled by multi and dual lands – and you automatically start with five in each color with City of Brass and the Moxen – building the base doesn’t look so tough, does it?

Don’t forget that your twenty-eight slots also include key colorless sources (Sol Ring, Library of Alexandria, Strip Mine/Wasteland) and the single-color Moxen. Trust me, sometimes, figuring out what goes in slot #28 can be more agonizing than cutting spell #33.

Now let’s go back to”The Deck” as a specific example.

You have to closely tailor the number of spells you’re using to the number of sources you have, because if you try to run an equal number of spells in each color, you’re going to be drawing the wrong mana too often. And, following from this, you have to keep the double-colored mana cards in the primary color.

With these restrictions, the obvious primary color is blue (counters plus key power cards) and the obvious secondary color is black (key power cards). The usual tertiary colors are white and red. If you notice, the number for tertiary color sources is pretty close to the number for secondary. Remember, a lot of your sideboard cards come from the tertiary colors.

My 5-color mana base looks like:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Sol Ring

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

1 Undiscovered Paradise

4 Underground Sea

3 Volcanic Island

3 Tundra

Summarizing that in our table, we get (Black Lotus excluded):


Number of sources

Primary color (blue)


Secondary color (black)


Tertiary color #1 (white)


Tertiary color #2 (red)


Off color (green)


Notice that the required numbers fall into place thanks to the duals, despite the high number of colorless lands. (I really have to take D’Avanzo’s advice and cut that fifth Wasteland for another dual land, but it’s grown on me with superstitious levels.)

There are nuances I’d like to go into with more detail later on. For example, note that all the off-color sources are multilands, and I’m not wasting slots on off-color duals. It’s a very common mistake to take a couple of slots for a tertiary color and give them to the off-color.

Again, you’ll just draw the wrong mana more of the time.

I can’t emphasize that being paranoid about the mana base is the mark of a good control player on Beyond Dominia. Heck, the last time I talked to Zvi Mowshowitz about”The Deck,” he began every other sentence with,”Assuming I can fix the mana…”

This isn’t a flashy subject – but losing to mana screw isn’t, either.

5-color Mana Base Oversights

A shaky mana base may not be obvious to less experienced players.

Let’s give you a practical exercise.

Tell me what you think of this decklist:

“The Deck” of Natil, Champion, March 3, 2002 MTGOnline Type I

Mana (27)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Sol Ring

1 Strip Mine

3 Wasteland

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Tolarian Academy

3 City of Brass

1 Undiscovered Paradise

3 Underground Sea

3 Tundra

2 Volcanic Island

2 Tropical Island

Blue (18)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Merchant Scroll

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

1 Misdirection

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Fact or Fiction

2 Morphling

Black (6)

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Mind Twist

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Diabolic Edict

1 The Abyss

White (4)

1 Balance

1 Moat

1 Dismantling Blow

1 Circle of Protection: Red

Red (2)

1 Gorilla Shaman

1 Fire/Ice

Green (2)

1 Sylvan Library

1 Regrowth

Artifact (1)

1 Zuran Orb

Sideboard (15)

1 Ivory Mask

2 Red Elemental Blast

2 Dwarven Miner

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Tormod’s Crypt

1 Aura Fracture

4 Compost

1 Waylay

1 Hydroblast

STOP! Remember this is an exercise… Don’t read on till you’ve thought this out completely.

If you look at the main deck, it strongly resembles the decklist I use in this series. It’s just been pre-metagamed against the random aggro that you might expect in the MTGOnline environment, and note the extra Moat and COP: Red.

(Though I find it very strange that he added permanent removal, but runs almost no spot removal, and kept two”Zuran Orb” slots after slipping in COP.)

The mana count is lowered by one, but you can assume he cut a Wasteland and didn’t scrimp on the colored mana. But let’s run Natil’s deck through our little table:


Number of sources

Primary color (blue)


Secondary color (black)


Tertiary color #1 (white)


Tertiary color #2 (red)


Tertiary color #3 (green)


Remember my biggest criticism on that Invincible Counter Troll deck?

Yes… I’m afraid Natil is running the Type I equivalent of a 6/6/6 Limited land distribution.

The mana base couldn’t shout an invitation for colorscrew any louder if it were painted on the back of the sleeves.

The only way the mana base could be even more unstable without being an obvious disaster is if it ran inherently unstable lands like Gemstone Mine and Reflecting Pool.

Why am I wasting your time discussing obvious deckbuilding mistakes?

You’re probably telling yourself that you know better than Natil; that if you were netdecking you’d do it correctly, and that he’s an obvious idiot – which you aren’t.

But, no, I don’t think the words”obvious” and”idiot” belong in the discussion.

What was Natil trying to do?

We know he was trying to hedge against aggro, but looking at his specific card choices, I’d guess he was wary of Sligh and Suicide Black.

Why Suicide?

Aside from the generic anti-aggro spells, you have four Composts and an Ivory Mask specifically against aggro. Though I wrote that Ivory Mask is a useless sideboard against discard, Compost is one of the worst things you can drop on a Suicide player.




Urza’s Destiny uncommon

Whenever a black card is put into an opponent’s graveyard, you may draw a card.

Let’s set Natil’s deck aside for a moment. Picture yourself at the Prerelease. You excitedly rip open your starter box and flip over the rare at the back of the pile. Lo and behold, Cabal Patriarch is smiling right back at you.

Then you discover that you got absolutely no other playable black cards.

In this extreme hypothetical scenario, would you force yourself to run black? (Remember, he isn’t one of the more splashable bombs like Chainflinger.)

I seriously doubt you would.

So if you wouldn’t do that, would you wreck your mana base to work in a bomb from your sideboard?

Doubt it, especially if you read my notes on Compost and when not to use it

It’s even worse when you realize he’s sideboarding against Suicide Black, which uses Sinkhole and Wasteland as disruption in addition to discard. Against a deck that wrecks its mana base, this deck wrecks its mana base in order to sideboard…

See the problem?

The disaster repeats itself in every other color. Note that most of his anti-aggro is in white while his anti-control is in red (if you ask why he’s running just two Red Elemental Blasts, he probably thought getting paired against a good control player was the least of his problems in MTGOnline). So not only does he draw Volcanic Islands along with Compost in the opening hand, he also draws Tropical Island when he topdecks COP: Red, and both when he needs to REB something.

In fact, you scratch your head when you realize he’s maindecking Moat with only eight white mana sources.

The funny part is that it doesn’t happen every game, so you might not notice or just blame it on Apprentice shuffler when you get unlucky twice and drop.

So the real problem here is that Natil mistakenly looks at”The Deck” as a 5-color deck – to the point that I can’t even call his green an off-color. It might shock you to know that Natil has a 1723 Type I rating in the MTGOnline league. In other words, he’s their highest-ranked player as of this writing.

Yet he’s using only three Cities of Brass-and using an Undiscovered Paradise.

So swallow your pride and check your mana before you get all excited about the mighty arsenal packed in”The Deck.” The mana base is, by nature, unstable enough that it doesn’t need your help to color screw itself.

Again, don’t think the mana mistakes are that obvious to most people, or that anyone who makes them is a moron.

You could’ve easily made all of them.

And, what you don’t know can hurt you.

I have one excruciating final exam down, and a lot more coming, but let’s see if we can wrap up this discussion next week. Anyway, hope my computer’s soul gets settled…

Oscar Tan

[email protected]

rakso on #BDChat on Newnet

Manila, Philippines

Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.bdominia.com/discus/messages/9/9.shtml)

Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)

Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)

P.S. – I got some mail about the last article, and I need to make a few corrections.

First, I need to clarify the comment that Scrying Glass and it’s”Urza’s Glasses” ability can be compared to Yawgmoth’s Will with a cantrip ability. The point is that drawing a card for three mana off a two-mana permanent like Scrying Glass is a pretty good ability, and adding another advantage for free only makes it better. The Glass, in other words, would still be good if it didn’t let you peek.

The Yawgmoth’s Will was an analogy that might’ve confused you, and it had nothing to do with the power levels of either card.

Next, Matt D’Avanzo said that Ensnaring Bridge was purely his brainchild. To the people who got a signed Bridge from him, I think I got Vinny Pau’s contributions confused with Matt’s, so my apologies.

I hope Vinny doesn’t mind. He won last weekend’s Neutral Ground $250 Type I tournament. Congratulations, too, to David Kaplan who made second with his usual Sligh, and the guy who entered the Top 4 packing Stompy. I’ll try to get some lists for next week…

Finally, Giovanni Conedera e-mailed to clarify that a Phyrexian Dreadnought played through Illusionary Mask is only turned face up after it’s already declared as an attacker. Thus, Ensnaring Bridge doesn’t stop the first attack.

I honestly feel the current Illusionary Mask rulings are too counter-intuitive and have too many holes. The moment someone builds a truly consistent Mask/Dreadnought deck, it’ll kill a lot of deck types beginning with more straightforward (meaning least boring to many players) aggro decks.

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