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Building a Five-Color Commander Manabase


As the newest Magic set Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms previews were beginning, a new five-color legendary creature was previewed. Tiamat, in all her draconic glory, showed up on the Weekly MTG stream and got many a player excited. It was really happening: Dungeons and Dragons was finally coming to Magic proper. Shortly after the preview dropped, I got a text from my brother who picked up the game through Commander last year.

"For the five-color dragon deck I wanna build, can you give me any tips on budget lands? There's so many options it's a bit overwhelming."

This got me thinking that there's a lot of options out there for five-color mana bases, and they can get pretty pricey. Tiamat was the inspiration for the aforementioned five-color dragon list my brother wanted to build, and I'm sure many other Magic players feel the same way. It's not the only one that's come up in the last couple months either. After all, with the recent release of Time Spiral Remastered, a large number of players were introduced to slivers for the first time and were inspired to build a deck around the fan favorite tribe. That's to say nothing of Garth One-Eye either.

Sliver Legion
Garth One-Eye

There once was a time when five-color legends were scarce. The first of them was Sliver Queen, but the second one didn't show up until Apocalypse a whole three years later with Cromat. After that we got a couple more in the form of Atogatog in Odyssey and both Karona, False God and Sliver Overlord in Scourge. After that, we didn't see another actual five-color legendary creature (although there was a lot of five-color support with Fifth Dawn and Genju of the Realms) until Time Spiral nearly four years later with Scion of the Ur-Dragon. So, as you can tell, they were a rare treat for a while.

With the growing popularity of Commander as a format, that's quickly changing; many more five-color legendaries have been printed over the last few years. Since (and including) 2017's Commander pre-cons, we've seen a total of 17 five-color legendaries! That's over half of the game's 30 five-color Commanders all in the span of four years - a tremendous density given how Magic turns 28 years old in just a few weeks.

With the growing popularity of these kinds of legendaries, I figured it'd be a good idea to go into some mana bases, as they can be pretty daunting to make, and talk about the methodology a little bit. Let's start with the one I made for my brother:

This was supposed to be a solid launching point for a more tribal deck, which is why you see cards like Unclaimed Territory, Path of Ancestry, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon in the mix. You might also notice that it's a little greedy, being largely nonbasic lands. That was by design, as it was largely meant to be a place that my brother could start from. The big thing here was finding the best sets of duals that could be reasonably afforded by someone his age. He likes to spend a decent amount on the game without going crazy, so he can afford something a little more than a bare-bones budget list. As such, I went with these lands due to the following thoughts:

  • The check lands, or buddy lands, from sets like Ixalan and Dominaria are frequently reprinted and are usually quite accessible. They're also quite solid lands that work well on their own merit in many different land bases.
  • The Pathways are some of the best lands in the game - especially for Commander - and are even in Standard. You can even get a full foil set of ten in this year's Secret Lair Ultimate Edition for only about $100, giving a clean and easy way to get a full cycle in one swing.
  • The Ikoria cycle lands are still in Standard, and the Amonkhet ones are both fairly cheap as well. These are some of the cheapest duals with land types that do a little more than come into play tapped and tap for double mana. Having these lets your check lands come in untapped and can also be cycled in a pinch for more gas plays.
  • 5 basic lands, one of each.
  • 6 other lands to fill out some spots.

This isn't perfect, but it gives a solid base. Sure, shock lands and fetch lands - never mind ABUR duals - are going to be better than some of the choices here, but those get pricey fast by comparison. If you have them, use this as a starting point and swap out where you feel appropriate. But it's also worth noting that this was built with the fact that his playgroup is largely newer, and thus a little lower in overall power level. As such, there's most likely going to be far less nonbasic hate from cards like these:

Blood Moon
Back to Basics

The stipulation when I gave this list to my brother was that you could adjust it to allow for more basic lands as needed, but having access to as many duals as possible is key. After all, you want to make sure you're able to cast the spells you need to, and while you can certainly hit cards like Chromatic Lantern, Prismatic Omen, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, that's not always going to happen. This is Commander, after all, where you end up running a 1/33 chance of hitting any of those in a game even if you run all three.

With that in mind, let's try making one that's a little more focused on basic lands instead.

This list is running way more basics, thereby allowing us to avoid as much of the heavy nonbasic hate. As it happens, this also works quite well as a budget deck, since we get to play a bit more of the cards that rely on basic lands. The Battle For Zendikar lands aren't terribly exciting in a lot of situations, but in a deck where roughly half of your land base is basics, it's not hard to get them in untapped most of the time.

I also felt it might be reasonable to play the Shadows Over Innistrad and Strixhaven duals to match the whole budget ideology of it, and then add a couple other cards to help smooth out your options along the way. These duals aren't perfect, but there's lots of great options if you don't want to go as ultra budget as this frequently is. The check lands and Pathways, as mentioned before, are fantastic options to fill out those gaps. You can even go back and run the pain lands from Ice Age and Apocalypse. While the earlier ones can be a little pricey at times, that's not so much the case for the Apocalypse ones, as a large number of reprints have really kept prices on them down over the years.

Playing this budget route can even open you up to a few heavier hitting lands you might not otherwise pick up due to cost. This includes cards like Reflecting Pool, City of Brass, and Mana Confluence - all of which have gone up quite a bit in recent years. But there's more to it than just determining what kind of lands you want to play, though that is certainly a factor as well. No one wants to be stuck playing a bunch of garbage tap lands (looking at Commander 2017's Draconic Dominance deck on this one especially) but sometimes there needs to be a bit more balance as well.

Take a second and look at the Karona, False God decklist I posted in an article last year:

Karona Girl Power | Commander | Kendra Smith

While you can go check out the actual article itself for a proper rundown on how the deck works, I want to talk a little more about the mana base. There's a couple glaring flaws with it, first and foremost that there's almost certainly too few lands. The other thing is that it's 10 of each shock land, fetch land, and dual land, as well as five basics. This might seem like a perfect mana base, but in truth it was me being lazy with deck construction and not wanting to think too heavily about it. After all, I was really just looking to get some games in with friends and I wanted to have some good silly fun.

When you break it down, though, there's a few other things to look at. The first is that, frankly, I'm not my brother's playgroup. I've got 22 years of Magic gameplay under my belt and while many of the people I play with may not have that much experience, they usually have several years' worth. That means I can expect more nonbasic hate, more land destruction, and similar, which I have to be mindful of. Given the deck's theme, I also couldn't really run any signets or decent mana-fixing, so I had to go as all-in as possible.

The other factor is, as I mentioned previously, the balance aspect. It might seem like having perfect mana is going to be good enough (and with fetch lands, I think it's arguable that you'll be pretty good most of the time), but let's strip that away a little. Instead of fetch lands and duals, it's Pathways and check lands. Doesn't feel quite as perfect now, does it? In fact, it's extremely disproportionate. Here's the mana symbol count for each color in the list:

  • White: 35
  • Blue: 14
  • Black: 18
  • Red: 12
  • Green: 23

The way this looks, I should be running more White lands than any others with a secondary focus in Green (especially since I need to hit the early ramp cards more). This means you might actually want to shave some of the lands like the Blue and Black color paired lands in favor of some Green and White ones. It's a skill that is frequently applied in drafting and competitive Constructed Magic, and while Commander isn't always so min/max as that, it's likely beneficial to re-examine it through this lens for a five-colored list. For example, this deck being so heavily White is more, again, due in part to its theme. Many five-color decks will actually want to be much more Green-focused to ensure they can better hit the colors they want to have in play.

There's a lot of ways to build mana bases, and many different possible configurations that you can use. These are but a small number of options that you can have at your disposal, but they can be built however you deem best. Do you want something more bare bones and budgetary? Go for it. Got the money and want some shocks and fetches? Maybe some filter lands? Go nuts! It's Commander, the sky's the limit, after all. Just make sure you build it the best way that works for you while also being able to have the most fun possible.

I'll be back next week to talk about an actual five-color legend and make a sweet new deck or two around it. I hope to see you there!

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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