Building Mana Bases in Modern

Brewing decks is one of the most fun parts of Magic. Picking new combinations of powerful, or sometimes wacky, cards to slot into a deck is a great way to spend an evening engaging in Magic without actually doing battle.

One of the most important parts to building any deck in Magic is the mana base. Today I would like to take some time to talk about building mana bases in one of Magic’s most popular formats: Modern.

In my opinion, building mana bases in Modern is more complicated than any other format in Magic. It is more complicated than Standard because of the sheer volume of different types of lands you can include in your mana base. It is more complicated than Legacy because there is not a set of lands that are “strictly better” than all of the others.

For those who are unfamiliar the set of lands we are generally selecting from when building mana bases in Modern are the following:

  • Fetches
  • Shocks
  • Basics
  • Fastlands
  • Check / Buddy Lands
  • Creature Lands
  • Utility Lands

Two Color Mana Bases

The core of most mana bases in Modern starts with a mix of Fetches, Shocks and basic lands. For instance let’s say we are building a {B}{W} mana base from scratch. If I were to start jotting down the lands I intended to play, my first few would likely be these:

To figure out the next few lands I want to play I need to ask myself a few questions about the deck I am building such as:

  • How aggressive am I looking to be?
  • How many total lands am I interested in playing?
  • What spells am I looking to play and how soon do I want to play them consistently?

The last question in my list is probably the most important of the bunch. It dictates how many total mana sources of each color I want to be playing in my mana base. To borrow some stats from Frank Karsten’s timeless “How Many Colored Sources Do You Need?” article, we have this handy table to reference:

This means if I want to be 90%~ to cast a turn one discard spell, I want at least 14 Black sources in my deck. If I want to be 90%~ to cast a Gideon of the Trials ({1}{W}{W}) on turn three, I want at least 19 White sources in my deck.

So, let’s fill in the remaining bits of my {B}{W} mana base with the assumptions that I am building a more aggressive deck, that is interested in casting turn one discard and turn three Gideon of the Trials.

This means I ideally want around 15 Black sources and 19 White sources. Because my deck is going to be more aggressive, this means I want to favor playing Fastlands, as opposed to really leaning into creature lands and buddy lands. The 10 lands I outlined above contained 8 Black sources and 8 White sources. This means I want to add approximately 7 more Black sources and 10 more White sources.

With these things in mind I would expand our starting mana base to look as such:

The one thing that may seem a touch odd on the surface is the inclusion of four copies of Flooded Strand in our deck that does not have any Blue mana in it. The important thing to remember about any White fetch land is that it is effectively a dual land since it can fetch up our copies of Godless Shrine. The reason why we do not simply max out on Godless Shrine before playing additional fetch lands is because our fetch lands also have the option to be basic Plains when we do not need Black mana — allowing us to play around cards like Blood Moon better.

Because we are playing a more aggressive deck, we are only playing 22 lands because our curve tends to be lower in aggressive decks.

What would our mana base look like if we answered some of those other questions a bit differently? For example what if we were interested in building a more midrange {B}{W} deck that is interested in curving all the way out to five-mana planeswalkers consistently? We will still build under the assumption that we want to cast {W}{W} planeswalkers on turns 3-4 and one-mana discard spells early.

Because a midrange deck is slightly less worried about curving out precisely in the early turns, we can generally afford to play more tapped lands such as creature lands. Because we will have a higher land count we will also be incentivized to play more total utility lands to reduce the downside of flooding out on occasion.

With these things in mind my mana base for a midrange {B}{W} deck looks something like this:

Three Color Mana Bases

The two color example is fairly straightforward. There is a touch more complexity when it comes to three color mana bases in Modern. That being said, there is still a “reasonable core” that most of my three color mana bases in Modern start with. In my opinion, most three color mana bases in Modern should start with:

  • 8 Fetch Lands
  • 4 Shock Lands
  • 4 Basic Lands

Fetch lands are really the best lands in these tri-color decks. This is because even though fetch lands only find two different land types, they can find all three colors of our mana thanks to being able to pair them with shock lands which have basic land types.

Before we can fill in our core details though, knowing the composition our deck is going to have is important. By this I mean we need to know what our most important colors are and which color is our “splash”.

For our three color example let’s build a Bant ({W}{U}{G}) mana base. Let’s assume the core of this deck will be mostly Green and White cards, with the goal of playing Green mana creatures on turn one. My Blue spells will likely cost three or more mana, with cards that need {U}{U} being four or more mana like Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

With these things in mind the start of my mana base would look something like this:

Those who were paying attention above will note that I have started with slightly more than the core I laid out above. We want two Temple Garden because it is both the colors of the core colors of our three color deck.

At the same time, though, you will note I mentioned wanting to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor above. A good rule of thumb is that you should always try to have at least one more shock land than the most colored symbols you have on a card you want to be casting. The reason for this is in case one of our dual lands gets destroyed by a Stone Rain, Tectonic Edge, or even Ghost Quarter. This means because Jace has {U}{U}in his casting cost, I want to have at least three Blue shock lands to find in my deck.

Let’s assume I am interested in playing 23 lands total in my midrange deck. This means I need to flesh out 6 more lands in the above resource base. To do this accurately, let’s make a few more assumptions about the cards I am playing:

Knowing that we have six-mana creatures means two things for us. First it means that we want a fairly high chance to have Green on the first turn. The second thing it means though is that if we have these mana creatures, they can provide additional fixing for us. This means we effectively have 6 extra sources of every color, assuming we can find a starting Green source. With all of this in mind, I probably want my final mana base to have the following color requirements based on Karsten’s table from above:

  • 17-18 Green
  • 13-14 Blue and White

Counting our fetch lands as all three colored sources, our starting 17 land mana base has the following color provides:

  • 14 Green
  • 12 White
  • 12 Blue

This means from my reaming six lands at a minimum I want:

  • 3 Green sources
  • 1 White source
  • 1 Blue source

In general, unless my deck is going to have an extreme number of 4+ mana cards (unlikely in Modern in general) we want to favor fast lands after shocks and fetch lands. We also probably want to include a few utility lands in our mana base to help when we are flooding out a bit. With these things in mind, my starting point for the remaining six lands in this deck would likely be:

These lands bring us to:

  • 18 Green
  • 15 Blue
  • 14 White

If you wanted to err on the side of having even better mana (depending on how intense the color requirements are of the spells you are playing), you could also turn the third Forest into a Razorverge Thicket and the Gavony Township should be a second Horizon Canopy.

You Try It!

It would not be a very good lesson if I did not give you some practice problems as homework. Try constructing mana bases using the ideas I presented above with the following conditions / deck information.

Deck 1 —{W}{R} Aggro

  • Our creature base is primarily White
  • Our curve tops out at 4

Deck 2 — Esper Midrange

  • Our deck is base {U}{B}
  • We have both one-mana Blue cantrips and one-mana Black discard
  • We have some {U}{U} spells
  • White is a small splash and only for single White casting cost cards

Scroll past the wrap up section below to find out my starting mana bases for decks with these requirements.

Wrapping Up

Obviously this article is not intended to be an exhaustive resource. There are some corner case mana bases in Modern, such as Eldrazi decks, Tron and combo decks like Ad Nauseam, that do not adhere to the ideas here because of specific requirements they have.

That being said, hopefully the ideas here were useful to you when it comes to constructing two and three color mana bases in Modern, which are generally what many decks in the format will be playing with. Keep in mind also, while building and playing, that constructing mana bases is just as much an art as it is a science. It often takes few tries to get all of the more specific details right because which utility lands are best for a given deck will often vary depending on what a given deck’s goals and weakness are.

Have a comment, suggestion, or question about the ideas I talked about here today? Let me know in a comment below!

—Jeff Hoogland

You Try it Solutions

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