Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mana Bases

Today I want to write about mana bases. What's a mana base? Here's how it's defined over on  the MTG Salvation Wiki:

The Mana base of a deck consists of all the cards which produce mana to cast spells. This obviously includes lands, but also counts artifacts, creatures, and even enchantments that have a mana ability attached to them.

Further, and I quote, "The mana base is...the most essential part of a deck as a deck that is unable to achieve the requirements to cast its spells is rendered effectively useless."

While the complexity of a mana base is obviously directly related to the complexity of the deck itself, to construct a proper mana base you need to answer three questions:
  1. How many Lands do I need to reliably cast my spells on time?
  2. How many different color-sources do I need to reliably cast my spells on time?
  3. What options do I have that would allow me to use a single card as a source for more than one color?
Needless to say, constructing a solid mana base is essential to success in Magic. And unless you're copying a well-tested deck from someone else, it can be one of the most difficult aspects of deckbuilding.

This past week I read an excellent article over at ChannelFireball by Frank Karsten about mana-bases. While I am certainly familiar with some of the theory behind mana-bases, this was the first time I saw anyone attempt to mathematically demonstrate the numbers behind some of the theory. If you have the time, I strongly suggest you read his article. But if you just want the gist of his analysis, read on:
Obviously this is taken directly from his article, so full credit goes to Frank Karsten.

So what's the baseline? For a simple two color deck that wants access to both color by Turn 3 (with only one of a particular colored mana symbol in any spell in the decklist), you should play 12 basics for each color, leaving you with a reasonable 24 Lands in your deck. But what about a three color deck? If all you have access to are Basic Lands, you would need to play 36 of them to have access to all three by Turn 3! Obviously that's not going to work.

Which is why Lands that produce more than one color mana are so important. For that same three color deck, if you have 4 Nylea's Presence and 8 Gates covering all three colors, you squeeze in 8 colored sources for each color, leaving you with only 4 basics of each color needed to reach the requirements. Once again, this leaves you with 24 Lands in your deck.

Of course, if you have one or more spells that require multiple instances of a single color mana to cast, the calculation becomes even more complex!

I will leave you to these calculations for now. But next time, I want to use this information to analyze some recent decklists from Standard Pauper and see how the theory holds up! In the meantime, if you have some advice or resources to share about mana bases, I'd love to see it in the comments below.

See you next time.

1 comment:

  1. Do you remember the old book "Mastering Magic Cards" by George H. Baxter? It's probably very outdated compared to this information, but I still use the basic pen and paper technique described in his book. Create a 3x5 grid on paper, each square with space for four cards, and leave the side column for 20 lands. Except nowadays I use the bottom two rows since the only thing I've learned about mana bases since reading it in 1997 is that 24 is the new 20 :-) Probably a good idea for me to read up on this!