The Khans of Tarkir prerelease is just a few days away and I am pretty excited to be casting a bunch of undercosted and overpowered multicolor spells. However, all of those sweet creatures and spells do come with the burden of a very stretched mana base, at least in limited. In constructed, we are so used to having access to 30 dual lands in any given environment that we forget just how hard casting three color cards off of just basics can be.
There is a certain skill in being able to construct a mana base reasonably well. There is no such thing as being a master or perfect, as it is very difficult to figure out fractions of a mana or specific needs for any given deck, but as long as you can explain why you made the choices that you did regarding your mana, you are on the right track.
The days of eight Swamps and eight Forests in every black/green limited deck are about to be over!
Keep in mind that next week we will be having our full set review for Khans of Tarkir and I will be going over all of the specific cards below in greater detail. This is specifically looking at the mana elements of the set as a whole to aid in prerelease deckbuilding.Lands and Mana Sources
If you have read a few Magic articles, you have probably heard of these two terms before. They seem similar, but they are not always one in the same. While most lands are mana sources, not all mana sources are lands. A Dimir Signet or Mox Opal is a mana source but those are not lands. There are also a few lands that do not produce mana, like Dark Depths, that you would not choose to play if you were in need of mana (Urborg shenanigans aside).
In Khans of Tarkir, most of the mana fixing you are going to find is going to come in the form of lands. These are pretty straightforward and set the basis for the 17 land rough counts that we have all heard of before for a 40 card deck. If we were to just adhere to 17 mana sources and not lands, we could have 17 Signets in our deck and no way to cast them.
If you draw this to this extreme, it is quickly apparent that a Signet, while a mana source, is not as reliable as a land.
Of course, not all nonland mana sources are created equal either. Something like the borderpost cycle from Shards block is significantly closer to a land than an Obelisk was as it only required a single mana to get into play. If we look at the breakdown for nonland mana sources in Khans, we see the following:
- Rattleclaw Mystic- Banner cycle (Abzan Banner, Jeskai Banner, Mardu Banner, Sultai Banner, Temur Banner)- Seek the Horizon
That's actually it although we should not be too surprised. Most of the fixing in Shards of Alara was also land based and then other types of fixing came later in the block. Remember that Morph also helps with your mana as you have access to a lot more colorless Grey Ogres.
Of those mana sources, none of them is even close to a land. I would value the Banners at about 4/10 of a land. That means that if you have five in your deck, you can probably be running 15 lands. Two is maybe enough to go to sixteen lands if your deck is lighter on the curve.
Seek the Horizon is a great fixer but not really a mana source due to being four mana. Probably something like 2/10s of a land.
Rattleclaw Mystic is about a solid half of a land, but it is rare and will not be impacting things nearly as often.Five Colors Not Created Equal
An important distinction to understand when going into a multicolor limited environment is that the number of colors you are should scale and not be all treated equally within your deck. If you were to come up to me at the Prerelease and tell me you were three colors and then showed me a deck with six Plains, six Swamps, and six Forests, you may have approached the deck wrong. In order to play more colors you need to weigh them against each other.
Essentially, we are looking to have more of our cards in one color and less cards across one or more additional colors. The end goal is to have a deck that can be something like nine Forest, five Swamps and two Plains. Now we have a core color that we can rely on a little more while still having access to the powerful two and three color cards that will be found in most packs.
Khans specifically has power points you should be looking to capitalize on. In general, when looking at what cards I want making up my third color, they are-
- Powerful three color spells, such as charms- Powerful two color spells that overlap with one of my two main colors- Powerful bombs or removal with low burden mana costs, such as those with just one mana symbol in the cost
All of your random filler and dorky creatures should look to be in your other two main colors. Reserve this third color to increase the power level of your deck without adding too much inconsistency. If you are splashing bears and three-drops, there is a good chance you will not have access to the mana needed to cast them while those cards are still relevant, so keep that in mind.
For Khans specifically, the wedge breakdown makes it pretty beneficial to be in two color decks with a third color splash. Generally, one color should stand out as the dominant color and will contain about half of the lands on color. The second color will be about a third of your lands and will generally be slightly less saturated both in density and on curve.
You should look to avoid extremely early drops in your third+ colors of course, but even crossing the line with your second color can ruin a deck here. A two-drop from your secondary color is fine every once in a while, but imagine that you have eight cards of your secondary color and all of them are on your curve at or below three mana. This can cause a problem as you want to be running fewer of those lands but your curve asks for them to come early, suggesting you run more of them.
Aside from these big traps, a tiered system where you generally aim for three colors will work well in this format.The Land Cycles
Because Khans places a heavy amount of emphasis on its actual lands to do the fixing around here, I wanted to quickly go over the various cycles and talk about what they mean to the format as a whole.
In Khans, there are three major land cycles found across three different rarities
-The Fetchlands at rare-The Trilands at uncommon-The Refuges at common
There are two key things to know about these going into the prerelease. The first is how important they are to your deck and the second is how highly you should be picking them in draft. These two things are correlated usually, but are distinct enough that they merit further discussion.
The fetchlands are going to be the worst of this group in general. The fixing they provide is very linear and only fills in two of three colors. In addition to this, because they are all allied color combinations, each on only fits neatly into a single wedge. Flooded Strand only has Jeskai rocking both white and blue. That limits the versatility these provide.
They do enable delve pretty nicely, so note that, but in general these should be taken behind important things like removal and bombs. You are going to value a triland over these almost always and the refuges are going to often get the nod over these as well.
The refuges as they were called in Zendikar, are a nice set of ten dual lands that provide you with a small benefit and otherwise are just tapped duals. These allow a lot of versatility as they exist for every color combination so you can stick to your two color deck if you want or even expand into a five color deck just by valuing these differently.
There is a price to pay for your lands entering the battlefield tapped, so you should be ready to compensate by having something to catch up in tempo like a sweeper or mana acceleration. That said, these are going to be mid pack picks ups for the most part and late ones will come if no one near you happens to be in those two colors.
The trilands are by far the best of these mana fixers and just like in Shards block, I expect many people to be willing to use a first pick on one of these. Having good mana for your powerful two- and three-drops that are hard to cast is just such a huge leg up in formats like this. Your opponent is casting a morph and you are playing a 4/4 for three instead with other abilities. That is a very tough board position to dig themselves out of.
Opening a sealed pool with four to six trilands is actually one of the best possible things you could hope for. Yes you lost some uncommons, but you get to play an actual mana base instead of the clunk that all of your opponents are likely to have.Understanding Weak Points
When you go into a sealed or draft environment in Khans, you need to carefully manage the number of colors you are and then build accordingly. There are various pros and cons to being any number of colors in this format.
Being monocolored leaves you with the absolute best mana but you lose access to all of the powerful cards in the draft format.
Being five colored leaves you with the slowest deck and usually the most inconsistent mana, but you get access to every powerful card you see and generally have answers to just about everything you run up against.
The biggest thing to understand about an increase in complexity in your mana base is that you are naturally increasing inconsistency when you do that. This can be offset to an extent by having a ton of fixing at the ready, but then that translates into another weak point which is simply the speed of your decks.
Even if you can ensure perfect consistency in this format, that inherently means a loss in tempo. Fifteen of the possible twenty lands come into play tapped and the Banners all cost three mana which is a fairly late turn to get your color fixing online.
The fixing can certainly be worth it by enabling powerful spells that you otherwise would not have had access to, but you need to recognize that playing all of those mana sources that require a loss in resources, whether that be one mana on that turn or three, is going to slow down the rate at which your deck can actually start doing what it wants to do. In this time frame, you are going to be weaker to strategies that get out and running without concern for mana.
It is your job to balance out your slower mana base with creatures and spells that actually have impacts early on. In Shards, a card like Brackwater Elemental was very valuable to me in five color control despite looking like an aggressive card. It turns out that a 4/4 blocker is a big deal that early in the game and it allowed me to continue to establish my mana and eventually reach my more powerful cards.Wrap Up
As you will see this weekend, all of this talk about mana is for a good reason. Multicolor formats are often defined by their level of fixing and the access to it that various decks have. Invasion is notorious for having far too little fixing and therefore being a very slow and awkward set to play
At first glance, the mana in Khans looks healthy but it could probably have used a Rupture Spire type of card to really hold everything together. We have to assume that the next set will bring more fixing with it as well, so we will wait and see. Thanks for reading!