THE MINOR MATTER OF MANA

Posted in GRAND PRIX NASHVILLE 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 2, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Throughout premier play with Khans of Tarkir one story rises every time: Mana really matters. In Sealed, the ability to play your most powerful cards without sacrificing consistency ensures a potent deck. In Draft, the ability to play spells as early and often as possible is a powerful tool alongside the choice to play as many dual lands as possible – reaching four or five different colors of mana and the strongest cards picked along the way.

Owen Turtenwald – William Jensen – Reid Duke

The top-of-the-Top 25 standings triumvirate of 1st-ranked Owen Turtenwald, 4th-ranked Reid Duke, and 9th-ranked William Jensen are no slouches in any format. With plenty of Grand Prix Top 8s and victories between them, recent Pro Tour Top 8s, and a Team Limited victory at Portland earlier this year, these three are an excellent start to understanding this mess of mana.

Reid Duke started strong: "Step 1 is to look at what our really powerful gold cards are. Step 2 is to look at our mana fixing."

So does this mean four- and five-color decks are right out the window? "We try our best not to play four and five-color decks," said Duke. "Traditional knowledge says if I'm two colors and splashing two cards of another color then four lands is enough for that splash. It isn't true the more colors you play: There are more chances things can go wrong. Your standard for your mana base needs to go up as you add more colors; It becomes exponentially more difficult to add more colors to your deck.

"Luckily you cans till add any amount of basic lands to a deck," Jensen said with a chuckle around the group. "Basically, just build the best decks and see if the mana works out."

"To put it in perspective I have two blue morphs in my deck but I'm not playing any Islands," Duke explained. "Incidentally I have the mana from my dual lands."

"It's not actually a four color deck," Turtenwald clarified. "He doesn't have cards that get stuck in his hand without the mana. The floor," that is, the worst a deck can deliver for its player, "for four colors can be so low."

"Even in our three color decks we center all our early plays around two colors," Duke continued.

If many of the things we've learned in non-team Draft and Sealed hold up, what's the biggest difference coming here? "The fact that the decks can compete for the same mana fixing," Duke said. "Say you had an Abzan deck and a white-red deck just splashing black: Both of those decks would want your Scoured Barrens. You would od your best to avoid that situation. Beyond that, the priority is to not put basic lands of a splash color: You want the minimum number of basic Swamps in your splash-black deck.

Is it really as straightforward as that? One team that cosigned to mana matters first was that of Matthew Severa, 13th-ranked Sam Black, and Gaudenis Vidugiris.

Matthew Severa – Sam Black – Gaudenis Vidugiris

How does this team tackle the piles of mana? "One of the easiest ways to start is looking at your allied color duals," Black explained. "Allied color duals point strongly towards the clan that includes that – all the enemy colored can go into multiple decks. If you have three blue-white duals you'd probably end up with a Jeskai deck."

"Sometimes you'll have great Abzan rare and have one Abzan dual – I can't play this color combo. Nonbasic lands are one of the places to start looking at an incredibly complicated pool."

"Just look at the lands first," Matt Severa simplified.

"There's another thing where if you can build a two-color deck is frees up a bunch of duals. Those can go into the other decks," Black said.

"That's certainly a consideration," Vidugiris

Severa continued the pithy points: "What are the lands telling me a can't build?"

"The gold cards give you incentives and the land cards give you requirements." Black finished. Sometimes nuance can be summed succinct.

Craig Wescoe – Alexander Hayne – Frank Skarren

Are things really as straightforward as that: Multicolor matters when you have the lands to support them? That's exactly what 17th-ranked Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion – with a few Grand Prix wins thrown in for good measure – Alexander Hayne said:" We've been looking at where the powerful multicolor cards are. You want to define your decks by those cards, and which you can support with the lands that come with it."

"I like to find the cross between the most powerful cards and the best mana," two-time Limited Grand Prix winner Frank Skarren explained, "which we view with a two color deck lightly splashing a third. This time it's really weird we're not using five of the lands because tae multicolor cards aren't that exciting."

Of course, there's always a little humor lurking in a team with Hayne. Pro Tour Dragon's Maze champion Craig Wescoe couldn't resist adding his flavor of mana planning: "The strategy we ended up with is they divided all the lands between themselves and gave me all the Plains."

Without missing a beat Hayne nodded. "That's pretty much what we did last night."

The lessons from three very different teams came to similar questions your team needs to answer:

  • What are your best multicolor cards? Which of these lend themselves to building decks around?
  • What are your dual lands? Which of your multicolor cards can you lands reasonably support?
  • Can you focus on two colors instead of three (or more)? What's the most convenient way through nonbasic lands to add a third color?