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Building a Draft Mana Base

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Welcome back to Very Limited, GatheringMagic.com’s exclusive Limited resource! With Khans of Tarkir on the horizon, we’ll be spending today discussing one of the more important parts of Limited Magic. Building a proper mana base for your draft deck can be difficult, and with Khans of Tarkir being a three-color set, there will be a lot of games won and lost by one player failing to find the correct mana. Today, we’ll be discussing how to properly build mana bases for our Draft decks. Including enough colored sources for all of our cards can be difficult when we don’t have access to all the juicy dual lands of Constructed. Khans of Tarkir pushes this problem a bit further by being a wedge set, or a set wherein it will be likely that many of the most powerful cards are three different colors. Sure, we haven’t seen the cards yet, but Nomad Outpost and Mystic Monastery are pretty good indicators that we’ll be seeing a lot of three-color goodness. There are five clans in Khans of Tarkir, and, presumably, we’ll be attempting to draft one of these clans in each and every one of our Drafts if we want to be successful. It’s also worth noting that we’ll often see bombs in later packs that share two of our three colors. Taking all of this into account can be difficult when putting together a mana base. Let’s try to simplify it.

How Many Mana Sources Do We Need to Reliably Cast Our Cards on the Appropriate Turn?

1-drops are notoriously underplayed in Limited when they’re the type of card that wants to be cast on the first turn. Sure, they can be outclassed quickly, but one of the major reasons 1-mana creatures struggle is that they are difficult to cast. To reliably cast a colored 1-mana creature on the first turn, we’ll need ten sources of that particular color in our deck. Playing ten sources of one color isn’t easy, even with a lot of fixing. This is one of the major reasons the playable 1-mana colored cards in Limited are cards that can affect the board even on later turns.

Oreskos Swiftclaw
2-drops are usually much better. To reliably cast a 2-mana creature with a single colored mana symbol on the second turn, we only need to have nine sources of that color in our deck, and some number can even come into play tapped. We’re used to playing nine-and-eight mana bases, so this makes a lot of sense. If we’re drafting G/W Magic 2015 and we already have a few copies of Sungrace Pegasus and Kinsbaile Skirmisher, we should probably be taking Oreskos Swiftclaw over Runeclaw Bear, even though Runeclaw Bear is the better card. The major reason is that we want to either be playing ten-and-seven or nine-and-eight mana in favor of white, and the Runeclaw Bear won’t be reliably cast on the second turn of the game. The inverse trend continues with 3-drops, for which we’ll only need eight sources to reliably cast on the third or fourth turn of the game. 4- and 5-drops require seven sources to reliably cast on the fourth or fifth turn of a game. When we have two mana symbols of the same color on a card, it becomes much more difficult to reliably cast on the appropriate turn for it to see its maximum power. As a result, we should always be taking the ease with which we can cast a card into consideration when making a particular pick. For example, we’re drafting a W/X deck, and we see a pack with a 3/1 flyer for 2w and a 3/2 flyer for 1ww. It may seem that the 3/2 is a clear pick, but if we’re planning on playing a second color as more than a splash, we’d definitely be better off taking the 3/1 for 2w.

When Should We Be Taking Mana-Fixing?

In a set like Magic 2015, most of the cards are reasonably easy to cast without special mana-fixing, and the enemy-colored pain lands, while being a nice bonus, are rarely worth picking over a strong common or uncommon unless we need them for our collection. However, with Khans of Tarkir pushing us into three-color decks, we’ll have to be aggressive when looking for mana-fixing in the Draft. The three-color, enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands will undoubtedly be extremely high picks in this format. We should be taking these early and often in our initial Drafts.

Should We Wait to See What Colors We Are Before Taking Our Mana-Fixing?

Seaside Citadel
In a set like Khans of Tarkir, the answer is almost certainly no. We should be taking three-color lands over everything except the highest-quality cards. For example, I would take a strong or inexpensive, spot-removal, single-color removal spell, a high-impact, single- or two-color uncommon, or a high quality rare over these lands, but I would never take a random playable 2- or 3-drop over one of them in the first pack, even if the three colors represented don’t matchup with a card I’ve already taken. In later packs, players will be scrambling and scraping to pick up their appropriate mana-fixing. If we’ve been taking lands the whole time, we’ll be rewarded with stronger cards in the later packs. Also, since we’ve been taking lands of all shapes and colors, the late bombs and powerful removal late in pack two and throughout pack three will happily find a home as a splash in our deck. There’s no downside to grabbing lands early; if our mana base is good enough, we’ll definitely have enough playables because a much wider range of cards become playable.

Will Our Draft Signaling Be Hurt by Passing On-Color Playables When Taking Lands?

In a three-color set, signaling becomes much more difficult because every pick counts so much. We may be passing strong on-color cards, but by diversifying the spells we can cast, we’ll find that our signaling becomes less important because there’s a massive range of cards we can be passed that will make our deck.

How Many Lands Can We Play That Come into Play Tapped?

Rakdos Guildgate
For some decks this number is higher, and for some decks, it’s lower, depending on your curve. For most decks, I would recommend five lands that come into play tapped and no more than six. For more aggressive decks with a lot of 2-drops, we probably want four and no more than five. We can afford to play seven or eight enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands if we have a bomb-laden four- or five-color monstrosity with a lot of inexpensive removal that can kill creatures that cost more or blockers that can fight efficiently with creatures that cost more. We may stumble for a turn because our lands enter the battlefield tapped, but we’ll be able to cast our spells, and that’s far more important than every other thing there is in the whole wide world.


It’s terrible when cards are stranded in our hand when we don’t have the mana to cast them, but with the knowledge we’ve acquired today, that should happen a lot less often. Khans of Tarkir is fast approaching, and in the coming weeks, we’ll begin to see more exciting preview cards. I’ll be revisiting overarching Draft strategy concepts in the coming weeks to prepare us for the upcoming prerelease and release events. May our math work out and our lands always come on time.


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