Evolving Mana Bases

Posted in Top Decks on April 15, 2016

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

A good mana base is key to every Magic deck (except Manaless Dredge, but let's not go there—'tis a silly place). The rotation of Khans of Tarkir has a huge impact on the landscape of Standard, as we no longer get to play four-color decks without trouble. Here's what has departed:

The tri-lands were key for decks that were split evenly among three colors, but even they took a back seat to the real MVPs: fetch lands.

Between fetch lands and battle lands, playing four colors was a breeze, and even decks that would normally be three colors ended up as four due to interactions like wanting a Sunken Hollow in your Abzan deck so your Flooded Strand fetched all your colors.

Where does that leave us now?

Here are the most relevant lands available:

Enemy color pain lands plus enemy color creature lands

Ally color battle lands plus ally color shadow lands

Additionally, there are vanilla enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands for every color pair, in case you want more (albeit at a worse rate than any of the above lands).

The last piece of the puzzle when it comes to colors is Evolving Wilds, which is really getting its day in the sun.

What can we do with these lands as a base? Let's take a look at how a few decks might build their mana.

Atarka Red

Using the list that Brian DeMars wrote about:

Brian DeMars Atarka Red

Download Arena Decklist
Land (21)
1 Forest 4 Game Trail 4 Cinder Glade 12 Mountain
Other (5)
2 Village Messenger/Moonrise Intruder 1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh/Chandra, Roaring Flame 2 Arlinn Kord/Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon
60 Cards

Atarka Red is feeling the loss of Wooded Foothills for sure, as this deck has nine green sources, many of which could enter the battlefield tapped on turn one. Even playing the basic Forest is painful, as Lightning Berserker is not a fan of trees.

What other options does an aggressive red deck have?

  1. Play mono-red. This simple step leads to the perfect mana base of 21 Mountains, but ends up costing significantly in card quality, as Atarka's Command is a big game.
  1. Play fewer green sources. It's possible to cut the Forest, though I wouldn't recommend doing so. Nine is already pretty low.
  1. Play one or two Evolving Wilds. Tapped lands are so brutal, but there's no other way to get to ten or eleven green sources without playing more Forests (which you can't really do).

This mana base (and the loss of Monastery Swiftspear/Temur Battle Rage/Become Immense) is one of the reasons I'm less than optimistic about the future of mono-red.

Moving on to a less aggressive deck, let's imagine a two-color deck with relatively stringent mana requirements.


4 Port Town

4 Prairie Stream

4 Evolving Wilds

6 Island

6 Plains

This is the basic setup, and gives you eighteen sources of each color, with minimal ETB-tapped lands (four Evolving Wilds plus eight duals that may or may not enter tapped). The downside here is that you aren't getting much additional value from your mana base. More realistically, you would make room for a couple copies of Westvale Abbey, leading to:

4 Port Town

4 Prairie Stream

3 Evolving Wilds

5 Island

5 Plains

3 Westvale Abbey

This still gives you sixteen sources of each color, and even one less ETB-tapped land (though Prairie Stream is slightly more likely to enter tapped now).

This mana base is good, and ally color decks are happy. What about enemy colors?


4 Shivan Reef

4 Wandering Fumarole

4 Highland Lake

6 Island

6 Mountain

Here, Highland Lake replaces Evolving Wilds. Given no battle lands (like Prairie Stream), there's no pressing need to fetch out basics. That gives this deck eighteen of each source, but a way better mana base overall. This has slightly more ETB-tapped lands, since Fumarole and Lake both always enter tapped (whereas Port Town and Prairie Stream usually don't), but Wandering Fumarole being a creature land more than makes up for that. Additionally, this deck has twelve true duals instead of any Evolving Wilds, which forces you to pick a color and no longer adds mana of the other one.

Enemy colors are also very happy with their options in a two-color deck. Time to add more to the mix.

Esper Control

Esper Control

Download Arena Decklist

This deck has a heavy white-blue base, and touches black for Dragonlord Silumgar, Sorin, Grim Nemesis, and Anguished Unmaking. The color counts are as follows:

Blue: 20

White: 17

Black: 11

Those are some good counts, though they come at the cost of seven lands that always come in tapped and eleven more that sometimes do. Additionally, Esper has 26 land slots to play with, though that's an advantage of the archetype.

Things look a little different if your core is enemy color, but the overall gist is the same. Here's a mana base for green-blue splashing red:

4 Evolving Wilds

4 Lumbering Falls

4 Yavimaya Coast

3 Shivan Reef

2 Cinder Glade

2 Island

3 Forest

2 Mountain

I'm imagining a deck that's on the aggressive side, and has 24 lands total. This list has the following counts:

Blue: 17

Green: 17

Red: 11

That's not bad for 24 lands, especially considering it gets four creature lands and has only eight ETB-tapped lands (plus Cinder Glades).

Three-color decks should have a solid mana base across this format, even if it's not as easy to play heavy in all three colors. Evolving Wilds is about as close to an automatic four-of as it gets, given that it gets three colors and plays well with both delirium and battle lands. Past that, a mix of pain lands, creature lands, and battle and/or shadow lands is going to get you there. The above two examples show an enemy combination at 24 lands and an allied one at 26, which gives you a good base for any three-color combo.

Lastly, let's look at a ramp deck, courtesy of Gerry Thompson:

Gerry Thompson's Red-Green Ramp

Download Arena Decklist

This mana base has a few interesting things going on. One is the inclusion of Wastes, which is to enable Ruin in their Wake. Ruin is one of the most powerful ramp spells available, and thanks to Traverse the Ulvenwald and Evolving Wilds, it's not that hard to pull off.

Here are the color counts for this deck:

Green: 13

Red: 7

Wastes: 8 (Evolving Wilds counts)

That seems low, but that's because the lands don't tell the full story. Four copies of Traverse and three copies of Oath of Nissa essentially increase the red/Wastes count by four, as Traverse gets them and Oath gives you more shots at them. Note also that Oath of Nissa helps cast the only RR spell in the deck, Chandra, Flamecaller.

Nissa's Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation also add to the mix, and overall this deck just needs one Forest and it's off to the races. I'd still look at playing a tenth Forest over the third Mountain, but this mana base is pretty solid.

We've taken quite the landscape tour today, and hopefully these examples give you both practical bases to start with and the logic needed to diverge when necessary. It's tough balancing the numbers of lands that come in tapped, total sources needed, and how cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald count. Luckily, there are plenty of mana options available, and there's a range of mana bases that work for every given deck. We may not get to play four colors for free anymore, but two- and three-color decks are quite viable, especially if they aren't trying to play a bunch of one-drops.


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