Wallet Warriors: Building a Mana Base on a Budget

Kilian Johnson
September 18, 2017

Welcome back Wallet Warriors! Today we’re going over some Commander fundamentals! Yay! I can tell you’re already excited. Well, I’m sure you read the title before clicking so let’s get into mana base construction on a budget!

Building your mana base is definitely not the most glamorous part of the deck building process but it is something we all have to do and when you’re looking to play affordably it can be really tough. This article will walk you through my process of building a mana base on a budget and give you some basic guidelines you can take with you when you’re building your mana bases in the future.

Alright, let’s get right into it!

Focusing on Three Colors:

Three color mana bases, by my estimation, are the most common type of mana base that people look for budget advice on. A two color deck is typically easy to sort out since finding all your colors is much less of an issue. Four color decks are relatively new and even with the partner commanders don’t have a lot of options relatively speaking, and going for all five colors is something most budget players will avoid for obvious reasons.

So for this article I will be focusing mainly on three color mana bases and will be walking you through an example build with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant because blue, black, and green tend to be the most popular colors in the format.

Number of Lands:

Before getting to the actual build, I want to answer a couple basic questions that are very important to think about at the start of the process.

For starters, how many lands should you have? When it comes to math I am by no means on the same level as someone like Frank Karsten (nor when it comes to many other things for that matter) but I do think brushing off the ol’ Hypergeometric Calculator can be very useful in finding the answer to this very important question. This is just a tool to help you calculate probability.

We want to keep this super simple so all we’re trying to find is the amount of mana sources you want in your deck to have a good chance of drawing three or more in your opening hand. (Good being at least 90% of the time).

My basic calculation was taking common numbers of mana sources (lands + mana rocks and ramp spells) in a 99 card deck and seeing how often you could expect to draw at least three in your opening hand, accounting for one free mulligan.

Something that I see a lot is newer players including too many lands in their decks. Often this is actually warranted because new players tend to be less reasonable about including huge spells in their decks. You’re gonna need to hit every land drop for the entire game if you want to naturally play out your eight and nine cost cards. However once you’ve played a few games and realize that your mana curve is a bit high, you’ll also need to reign in your land count. Let’s start by plugging in 40 lands, then 38 lands into our formula, which I believe to be too many.

For arguments sake I will keep the number of mana ramp spells a constant at eight. Also keep in mind that these percentages have been rounded so they are not exact.

  • 40 lands + 8 ramp spells: 48 mana sources gives us about a 94% chance of drawing 3 or more sources in our opener including a free mulligan.
  • 38 lands + 8 ramp spells: 46 mana sources: 92% chance

Here we can see that if you want a great chance of drawing a lot of mana early on 38 or 40 lands is good. However you want to be a bit greedier with your mana especially when you start lowering your curve. The fewer lands you can afford to run the better, so you don’t end up running out of gas late in the game and just keep drawing lands.

Let’s try plugging in some more numbers till we hit that 90% mark

  • 43 sources: 88%
  • 45 sources: 91%
  • 44 sources: 90%

The differences here are not huge so definitely do not take this as an absolute result. It is just a place to start. 36 lands and 8 mana ramp spells hits the arbitrary sweet spot that I’ve chosen and these numbers should give you a better idea of where you want to start in the deck building process. For our Sidisi deck example, we’re going to go with 44 sources.

How Many “Tapped” Lands?

A tapped land is one that will always enter the battlefield tapped. These lands typically have good effects because the drawback is very high. You want to have as few of your lands enter tapped as possible, however, having some can often bolster your mana consistency without dropping you a full gear in speed. Depending on how fast your deck is, you should aim to have 6-10 tapped lands. 10 being on the very high end. I typically end up with 6-8 and this deck specifically will have 8 tapped lands.

Getting Started: First Lands to Consider:

Alright, now we’re getting into the meat and potatoes. Which lands do you choose? You want to start with the best lands that can produce all your colors.

Tri-lands for our deck:

  • Command Tower
  • Ash Barrens
  • Path of Ancestry
  • Opulent Palace
  • Evolving Wilds
  • Terramorphic Expanse

Sets of Tri-lands for other colors to consider:

  • Panoramas (I.e. Grixis Panorama)

This is where most of your tapped land slots should be. Entering the battlefield tapped is a real cost and should usually only be paid when improving your mana consistency.

Moving on: Dual Lands

The dual land slots are often easier to fill if you have multiple allied color pairs in your combination. For Sultai we only have one in blue and black. However this example mana base will show you the cycles of lands I go through when building on a budget.

Dual lands for our deck:

  • Sunken Hollow (Battle Lands)
  • Choked Estuary (Shadow Lands)
  • Darkwater Catacombs (Odyssey Filter Lands)
  • Llanowar Wastes (Pain Lands)
  • Yavimaya Coast (Pain Lands)
  • Drowned Catacomb (Check Lands)
  • Tainted Isle (Tainted Lands)
  • Tainted Wood (Tainted Lands)
  • Simic Growth Chamber (Ravnica Bounce Lands)

Sets of Dual lands to consider:

  • Mirage Fetch Lands (I.e. Flood Plain)
  • Theros Temples (I.e. Temple of Enlightenment)
  • Life Lands (I.e. Tranquil Cove/Sejiri Refuge)

A cycle of lands I do not see come up very often in discussion are the Tainted lands. These innocuous lands, originally from Torment, are very powerful and incredibly cheap. You do need to keep an eye on your swamp count if you are going to include them but the fact that they tap for colorless mana either way makes them very reliable.

Utility Lands and Why You’re Using Too Many

Utility lands are lands that typically have some specific benefit beyond just mana production. They typically only produce colorless mana, such as Reliquary Tower and Homeward Path. Something I see all the time is people throwing in these types of lands into their decks without thinking about the ramifications. When you have a 3-5 color deck with a budget mana base any colorless land you add will hurt your mana consistency by a good amount.

Utility lands for our deck:

  • Crypt of Agadeem
  • Bojuka Bog

Utility we did not include:

  • Nephalia Drownyard
  • Drownyard Temple
  • Svogthos the Restless Tomb
  • Dakmor Salvage

To keep the list as budget and consistent as possible we are not including any colorless lands. The two lands included are both very powerful and produce colored mana which is great.

How Many Basics?

For a budget mana base you will typically end up running out of cheap multi-colored lands and filling the rest of your land base with basics. This is fine, however if you are not in green, you will want to focus more heavily on your non-basic lands and making your mana base stronger since you won’t have access to the best mana fixing.

Since we are in green for this example we don’t have to worry too much about pouring money into the mana base. We can keep it lean with our most expensive lands costing around 3 bucks each.

Final List

  • Command Tower
  • Ash Barrens
  • Path of Ancestry
  • Opulent Palace
  • Evolving Wilds
  • Terramorphic Expanse
  • Vivid Grove
  • Sunken Hollow
  • Choked Estuary
  • Darkwater Catacombs
  • Llanowar Wastes
  • Yavimaya Coast
  • Drowned Catacomb
  • Tainted Isle
  • Tainted Wood
  • Simic Growth Chamber
  • Crypt of Agadeem
  • Bojuka Bog
  • 5x Island
  • 5x Swamp
  • 8x Forest

So here is what a budget three color mana base I would put together looks like. It will cost you around 20 bucks and is surprisingly consistent.


And now you have a glimpse into the basic process I use to build a mana base on a budget. This article is not meant to give you strict guidelines but to give you inspiration if you are looking to build a three or more color deck and dreading having to break open your piggy bank for some fetch lands and shock lands. A budget mana base is far from perfect but it won’t stop you from sitting down at a table and having a blast playing Commander. Maybe with the extra couple of bucks you saved you can grab the pizza!

Seeya in a couple weeks!

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