Mana Base: The Literal Foundation of a Magic Deck

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m generally terrible at building a mana base for my decks, even though I’ve been playing Magic since 2005. When I start building a new deck, I’m usually focusing on the awesome cards I’m going to put in, rather than the mana I’m going to use to play said cards. Usually, I end up with way too many cards I want to put in and no room for mana!

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, either. I theorize that the reason Standard Magic (or Type II) has so many netdecks (copied strategies from pro and semi-pro players) is because most of us have a hard time building the right mana base. (Check DeckCheck, EssentialMagic, and the Standard General section of the Wizards of the Coast forums if you don’t believe me about copied strategies.) And, since mana bases are the foundation of any deck, when your mana base isn’t right, the deck doesn’t work.

So, how does a Magic player go about making a mana base that works? Here are some tips I’ve recently started to follow, with success:

#1: Determine what types of mana you need.

Sounds too simplistic, but this is the very first step to building a working mana base for your deck.

If you’ve got a mono-colored deck, for instance, you don’t need dual-color lands. And if you have dual-colored cards in your deck, you’re going to need both colors of mana to support them unless they are hybrid-mana cards (which means they could be played with either color).

How you choose to provide mana for your deck from color determination on is really based on what kinds of cards you have in your deck. For example, if you have a creature like Leonin Elder that gains life whenever an artifact comes into play, you will want artifact lands (like Ancient Den, at right) in your deck so that you have more artifacts to trigger that life-gain.
You also might have a creature that costs less to play for each certain type of land in play (this is called the “affinity” mechanic, seen on Tangle Golem at right). Playing this kind of ability means you’d want more of that land type in your deck than anything else.
Branching off the affinity concept, you could also use artifact lands to pump up a creature like Broodstar, who gets bigger for every artifact in play:
Other lands could support your deck in other ways, like lands that turn into creatures when a certain condition is fulfilled, or lands that can do other things besides give mana. Urza’s Factory, for instance, can put a 2/2 creature into play.
Strip Mine can get rid of an opponent’s land…
And Mutavault can become a 2/2 creature until end of turn.

You have to determine what you want your mana base to do for you before you proceed!

#2: Determine how much of each type you need.

Mono-colored decks get off easy in this regard. You simply put in enough mana sources of the color of your choice to constitute at least a third of your deck (so you’re drawing land about 33% of the time with a good shuffle), and you’re pretty much done.

However, if you’ve got a deck with more than one color, you need to balance things more carefully. Some things to consider include:

Casting costs of each spell.

Example: If you have a Green/White deck together, but all your Green spells have two Forests in the required casting costs, you’re probably not going to get away with an even split of Plains and Forests in your mana base. Instead, you’ll have to put in twice the number of Forests as Plains, so that you’ll more likely have the mana to play those double-green spells.

How many cards of each color you have.

Example: If you have a Green/White/Blue deck together, but you only have a few Blue cards, you won’t need many true Islands in the deck–you could possibly get away with just having a couple of dual- or tri-color lands. (I have such a deck together, and I’m only running 3 Islands, but I actually have enough access to Blue mana with the tri-color lands and land fetch I included in the deck.)

The land fetch you have included in your deck build.

Especially if you’re playing mono-Green or you’ve splashed Green into your deck, land fetch will help offset a troubled mana base. Land fetch, or the ability to retrieve another source of mana from your deck, is often necessary to offset turns where you have no land to play.

If you’re playing a lot of land fetch, you may not need as much of each color as you might have otherwise. If you’re not playing any at all, you will probably need to boost the amount of each type of mana you need for your deck.

#3: Determine how much of the deck you want to devote to your mana base.

I said earlier that about a third of most decks is dedicated to land. However, there are times when you don’t need 20 lands in a 60-card deck. You might need 24, or you might need 16. 20 is a good place to start, but depending on the type of deck you’re running, you may need to adjust that land count as you play the deck.

The only way to tell how much you’ll truly need for the deck’s best play is to test-play it quite a bit, either in a virtual environment or a real-life environment. I’ve had times where I built a 20-land mana base and got so consistently flooded with land it was unimaginable; I’ve also had times where a similar 20-land mana base got me stuck mid-game because I could not consistently draw enough land to support the cards I wanted to play.

Decks that discard a lot of their hands might have to ratchet up their land count to offset the cards they might lose in the process, for instance. Decks that need lots of mana to play super-high-costing stuff (such as Angels, Elementals, etc.), also generally need higher land counts. By contrast, decks that have lower-costed spells or creatures that tap for mana might not need as many lands. This is the most difficult part of refining a mana base, but it is necessary!


By taking into account your particular deck’s casting costs, spell types, colors, and abilities, you can be more informed about creating a good mana base the first (or thirty-first) time around. Research and consideration, plus a good dose of trial and error, is the best way!

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