Word of Command 11 - A Basic Manabase

In this edition of Word of Command, we take a look at one of the most basic elements of Commander decks: lands. Building a multicolor manabase with basic lands can seem daunting, but isn't nearly as challenging as it might initially seem. Whether you're new to Commander or are simply looking to improve your manabase, make sure to read this issue!

A Basic Manabase

Basic lands are a cornerstone of Magic. Representing our iconic mana source in its simplest form, they remain potent to this day through strict control in the design process, making sure that nonbasic lands are not created that are strictly better than basic lands. It is certainly easy to build a manabase today that includes no basic lands, but there are many advantages to including basics in a deck, and several disadvantages to not doing so.

To start with, basic lands have the advantages that they enter the battlefield untapped, are easily searchable, and interact with several cards that card about land types, or similar names. This is on top of the risks of running a heavy nonbasic land base against the various hate cards, like Blood Moon or Back to Basics. From a deckbuilding perspective, basic lands can help increase consistency, as well as help those with budget concerns. While nonbasics that can tap for multiple colors are often considered to help with consistency, basics can achieve a similar form of consistency when paired with basic land ramp.

In this article, we will look a little more in depth as to the advantages of basic lands, compare the advantages and disadvantages of land ramp when compared to mana rocks, and build the sample land bases of two decks: A non-green three color deck, represented by Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, and a “five color green” deck, with Horde of Notions at the helm.

The Basic Advantage

In the introduction, I introduced three core strengths to basic lands: entering the battlefield untapped, ease of search, and interacting with land types or names. I also imply that basic lands, with the presence of land searching effects, can improve consistency. I will discuss that alongside the benefits of searching for lands.

Entering the Battlefield Untapped

Entering the battlefield untapped seems like a very minor point when considering the strengths of basic lands. However, most nonbasic lands that produce more than one color of mana tend to enter the battlefield tapped, or have other similar restrictions on them. While having some lands that enter tapped is not necessarily bad, since you can play them on turns where you do not need to use the full extent of your mana, having a significant portion of your manabase enter tapped may lead to you effectively playing a turn behind your opponents.

The Benefits of Searching

When it comes to playing spells, you need the mana to play them. Since Commander tends to play bigger spells, or larger volumes of spells, it helps to have more mana available to do that. Basic land search is the most basic foundation for ramp in the game. While cards exist that can search for nonbasics, even onto the battlefield, those spells are more expensive than their basic equivalents. Using basic land ramp to search out lands is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to ramp in the game. The cost to search for a basic land is typically about two mana, while the cost to search a nonbasic land is typically about four mana.

A second attribute of searching lands is to help your deck's ability to consistently hit the colors it needs. While nonbasic lands can help with this consistency by offering multiple colors that you need, the ability to pick and choose the basic lands you search for helps in this regard as well, with the caveat that you'll need whatever colors your ramp spells are in, typically green, to begin the process. This consistency is what leads to the idea of a "five color green" deck, which implies that you can create a capable five-color manabase by skewing the lands and card choices more strongly towards green, and adding in the relevant search capabilities in order to achieve the rest of your needed colors.

In addition to this, the inclusion of the new Wastes allows decks that have high color requirements and less utility lands to tutor up a source of colorless mana simply by adding one or two Wastes, as needed.

Land ramp is also an attribute that any deck can include, as there are multiple non-green sources available to players. From effects that simply enable you to consistently make land drops, like Liliana of the Dark Realms or Thawing Glaciers, to colorless ramp options like Burnished Hart or Wayfarer's Bauble, or even straight ramp effects like Oath of Lieges, any deck has the capability to accelerate and fix colors from a basic land base.

Interacting with Land Types, Names, and the Basic Supertype

The final large advantage of basic lands is that there are many cards other than land ramp that reference and interact with the various properties of basic lands. Cards such as Emeria, the Sky Ruin, Keeper of Progenitus, and Traproot Kami all reference basic land types, and the easiest way to gain benefit off of them is to increase you basic land count. The second advantage stems from the ability to add any number of basic lands into a deck, thus increasing the number of cards with the same name for effects like Strata Scythe or Extraplanar Lens. Finally, the basic supertype is also often referenced on cards such as Earthcraft or Gauntlet of Power. Each of these cards can add powerful effects to your deck, and can warrant additional inclusions of basic lands to assist them.

Other Advantages of Basic Lands

Sometimes jamming multi-colored or utility land just overly complicates a deck. While nonbasics may improve a deck's performance, basic lands may instead reduce complicated situations and speed up gameplay, leading to a more enjoyable game overall. There is something to be said about the benefits and enjoyment of simplicity.

Lands vs. Artifacts

There are advantages to both traditional land ramp, as well as to traditional artifact ramp. One advantage to land ramp is that mass land destruction is considerably less frequent than sweeper that may hit artifacts as collateral damage. One advantage to artifact ramp is that every mana rock you add to your deck adds to the total mana your deck could produce, while land search cards simply find existing ones. Another way to think about this is that if both decks have 40 lands in them, and one deck has ten Rampant Growth effects, while the other has ten Mind Stones, the artifact deck could theoretically produce 50 mana, while the ramp deck would still have a maximum of 40. This is one reason that decks that focus more on artifact ramp can cut short some land slots, more so than ramp decks. However, on the other side, an excess of land ramp cards helps thin the deck, so you draw better spells in the late game. While a single fetchland won't make a large difference in the thinning of a 99 card singleton deck, if you manage to pull all of the basics out of your deck, that constitutes a considerable change in the odds of drawing a business spell.

A word of caution towards cutting too many lands for artifact slots though. While it is tempting to cut down lands, cutting too many slots means that you need to consistently spend mana simply to advance your board position and available mana, while making a land drop is free. You should still aim to be able to consistently make your land drops, especially in the early game, and use the artifacts as supplements to that, not as a replacement.

Building a Basic Deck

We're going to very quickly look at possible basic manabases for two sample decks: a three color deck which isn't running green, represented by Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, and a five color deck following the "five color green" principle helmed by Horde of Notions. In creating these manabases, we're going to assume that we want to touch on all of the advantages of a basic manabase, both in game-play and in deck-building, which means we'll be adhering to some budget constraints.

Non-Green Ramp with Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

Ramping in non-green decks can be a challenge, which sometimes makes it harder to keep up with opponents. Often this can be combated by consistently hitting land drops, using any ramp available to you, and taking advantage of mana-doubling effects and mana rocks where possible. Since Tariel is expensive to play, we're going to be doing all of them.

To start, we can begin with the colorless ramp options available to us: Myriad Landscape, Wayfarer's Bauble, Surveyor's Scope, Burnished Hart, and Solemn Simulacrum. Although I like to include Rings of Brighthearth in order to double up on the ramp cards, as well as turn fetch lands into ramp, we'll exclude it from this list on budget reasons. Instead, we can look into white's resources with Kor Cartographer and Oath of Lieges. While Oath is a symmetric effect, the theory behind it is simple: since we're not running green, someone else will likely have more lands than us. This will help us close the gap, and also de-value the ramp of the player who is ahead, since each ramp spell will not bring them further and further away from the rest of the table. There are also several helpful equipment we can look at, like Explorer's Scope and Sword of the Animist.

The second thing we can look at is how else our colors can help us get some extra value from our ramp effects. For example, black is great at reanimation, so we could add some cheap reanimation to our deck in order to gain extra value from our own ramp creatures, or to "borrow" one from an opponent. Some options could be things like Alesha, who Smiles at Death, Animate Dead, or Oversold Cemetery. Let's add a few of my favorites, like Undying Evil, Gift of Immortality, Mimic Vat, Wake the Dead, and Animate Dead. We could also add some equipment tutoring, like Relic Seeker to find our Sword of the Animist, but let's hold off on that, and keep him in mind if we were to make the deck a bit more equipment-focused. With that said, we should still add Nim Deathmantle to continue our creature recursion theme. With all this, we seem to have plenty of Plains searching, so we can also add an Emeria, the Sky Ruin into our three color deck. Entering the battlefield tapped in this case is an acceptable risk compared to the potential payoff later in the game. Finally, lets also add Nezumi Graverobber. While he won't be reanimating things super-quick, he fits the theme and also cleans up graveyards for our Commander, while still providing some capabilities to grind out some consistent value with the mana we're bringing out.

Next up, we can look at hitting consistent land drops. The best card in white for this, Land Tax, can be a bit expensive, so let's look at other options. Endless Horizons is a personal favorite for this role, as you don't need to go all in on it. It would actually still be a plenty fine card for us here, despite having less plains due to being in three colors, and not including many duals in this list. Even putting just a small handful of basics behind it can provide excellent value, and it also makes it less of a target than if we were being greedy. Still, let's see what else we have as options. Liliana of the Dark Realms remains quite cheap for a planeswalker, and has excellent value in also being a great kill spell, or a combat boost. Oreskos Explorer will fit well with our theme of bringing back creatures. Simple card draw as well can ensure consistent land drops, since if you draw three cards a turn, you should end up averaging hitting a bit more than a land per turn. We'll hold off adding card draw in this article though, since that can be a topic on its own. Let's round this off with a Thawing Glaciers, which alone ensures a land drop every other turn. Let's also add in a Deserted Temple to synergize with our Glaciers, turning it into ramp, as well as providing a potential power boost to any other interesting land we decide to run.

One thing we can add with a lot of "to hand" effects is also run cards like Walking Atlas to drop extra lands consistently. We're not going to be running too many of these effects, though, so let's leave the Atlas on the sidelines and run Terrain Generator instead, on the off chance that we have extra lands to drop.

The last part we can look at is doubling effects and mana rocks. I'm not feeling too confident about running Mana Flare in this list, since it seems to be geared more for the longer game, but this could change depending on what else ends up in the list. Since we have a lot of land synergy now, let's not add too many mana rocks, since at some point they'll eventually cut into our land count for slots, although this could be an advantage if we decide to add mass land destruction further into deck-building. It could also prove advantageous to add more mana rocks if we go with big mana sinks, like Geth, Lord of the Vault, who fits Tariel's theme. For now, let's stick to Sol Ring, Mind Stone, Commander's Sphere, and Chromatic Lantern. If you want to focus more on having 5 colors available for stolen activated abilities, replace Mind Stone and Commander's Sphere with a Fellwar Stone and a Darksteel Ingot.

The last piece is fleshing out our lands. We've already added some nonbasics, but we have plenty of room for other nonbasic lands. Let's with an even split of the three colors, and about 50% of our mana base will be basic lands, and add seven of each basic as a placeholder. This may change further down, and we'll likely skew heavier towards white for our white land effects and Emeria. In fact, let's do that now and run nine Plains, and six each of the other two. Then we can add a Mistveil Plains, since we have plenty of Plains synergy. We can always remove it later if we don't need the effect. This puts us at 27 of our 40 lands to start, which gives us room for 13 fun lands – I've filled in some of my favorites, but feel free to replace them with however you may want your deck to go.

We've used 21 of our 59 non-land slots from this deck so far, which is already a lot, but leaves plenty of room for additions and inspiration. Will we take the deck into more of a combat and equipment path, adding creatures like Stonehewer Giant and Aurelia, the Warleader – or will it focus more on large scale reanimation with Fated Return and Grim Return – or perhaps a more controlling build with Rout and Fated Retribution?

Five Color Green with Horde of Notions

This section won't follow the same stream of thought process that we went through for Tariel's deck, as green ramp is fairly straight forward. This section will instead focus on some of the key interactions selected, and the reasoning behind them. The first thing to bring to view is the inclusion of Prismatic Omen and Chromatic Lantern. These are aimed specifically for Horde of Notions as it has a color-intensive ability. If we were to decide to have a lower focus on Horde's ability, we could ignore these two cards. On a similar note, if we were running a different commander, we might have different commander-specific options. For example, Sliver Queen could include Perilous Forays to take advantage of the token production capabilities.

The second choice of note is the heavy artifact set, especially in running the non-green Signets. These are included to fulfill a similar role as the Prismatic Omen. As we ramp, the signets will allow us to filter our extra green mana from the abundance of Forests into the different colors of mana we need, while still allowing us to maintain a high basic Forest count in order to get us started in the early game. The same idea applies to the addition of the Odyssey filter lands include in the "Other Lands" section, though those are easily replaceable. Likewise, the inclusion of the basic fetch lands allows us to get a green source in the unlikely event that we don't have one in our opening hand, while also acting as a color fixer otherwise.

This list went with a bit more of a spell heavy ramp suite, though this is often personal preference, and dependent on deck synergy. The nonbasic land search is primarily in order to seek out Thawing Glaciers and Deserted Temple, though the landbase could easily be modified to support different utility lands as well. Other potential options would include replacing the spell suite with creatures like Farhaven Elf and Ondu Giant, or even the sacrifice effects of Sakura-Tribe Elder, Dawntreader Elk, and Yavimaya Elder. Wood Elves and Seedguide Ash can also be used, especially in conjunction with the new dual lands from Battle for Zendikar, which remain quite affordable.

The final piece is the addition of extra land drop creatures in Budoka Gardener and Walking Atlas. Both of these can drop Thawing Glaciers out each turn, as well as provide extra land drops for the ramp spells that add an extra land to hand. I also would assume that their inclusion would be parallel to a high amount of card draw, and they can help drop the extra lands gained from that as well.

Again, we ended up with 22 of our 59 slots filled, which leaves us with 37 slots to work with and shape this deck into a number of different paths.

Building with a Basic Budget

Many players start out with a limited card pool, and may not have the budget to expand their manabase quite so quickly. However, this doesn't need to be a roadblock that you fear in deck construction. Basic lands are far more versatile than many people assume, and you can build a solid landbase for even a five color deck out of basic lands. Try and include a few more basics into the next deck you brew, and see what synergy you can add to help your deck run smoother!


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