Magic the Gathering on a Budget: Getting the Right Mana Base
Magic the Gathering is built on small margins and incremental advantages. As such, Land cards that have extra utility are strictly better than their alternatives and have widespread utility — therefore commanding huge price-tags. The mana-base of a deck can be what makes up the bulk of the cost in some cases; with playsets of Shocklands and Fetch-Lands needed in many decks boosting the price far and above over what a mono-coloured deck would cost using mainly basic lands. The original Dual Lands are so expensive — and overpowered — because they supply two colours of mana with zero drawback. That simple fact, coupled with their scarcity, makes them worth hundreds of dollars.
The difference between a land that is worth $10+ and a land that is worth $1 can be very subtle, coming into play tapped is one of the most widespread drawbacks of land that produce more than one colour of mana, but in some formats and strategies this does not matter as much. Let’s start by looking at some things you don’t want.
This is a Guildgate. This is shit. Do not use it. It comes into play tapped and has no mitigating factors to offset that. It just comes into play tapped, making you feel bad and laughing at how poor you are. Unless your deck cares about the “gate” sub-type, there is really no reason to run Guildgates in any build what so ever. Yet I’ve seen many turning to them as the default poor-man’s dual-land. Let’s look at some better alternatives shall we?
Tarkir block has provided very widespread access to cheap and useful lands cards; the common of which is a full cycle of two-coloured lands that come into play tapped but provide one life when they enter the battlefield. These lands were first seen in the form of the uncommon Zendikar refuges, hence their name. Gaining one life doesn’t look like much on the surface, but for facing aggressive strategies, putting three or four of these onto the field in the course of a game can buy you some much needed leeway.
Coming into play tapped isn’t as much of an issue for control based strategies and so the refuge lands are a perfect fit for control builds on a very tight budget. Any land that is strictly better should always replace an inferior card in your deck; the barrier is usually price, but at literally pennies each you should be removing all your guildgates from those half-finished commander decks you have laying around and replace them with these. They are a joy to have in common.
Alara Shard-Lands/ Tarkir Wedge-Lands
It used to be that to have a land provide three different colours of mana you had to have something like the dismal cycle of Tri-colour lands from Homelands, or have some kind of sacrifice effect — but no more. The release of the Khans block also brought the welcome completion of the cycle of tri-colour tap-lands that allow you to fix mana easily and cheaply at uncommon rarity. You can pick the Tarklir lands up for under a dollar/pound right now, and the Alara lands generally run from $1-2 depending on where you buy them from. So once again, they are dirt-cheap utility for you decks — especially in commander.
In strategies that require fixing for 3+ colours, these vital lands are an absolute Godsend. Giving budget three, four or five colour strategies in formats like Commander and Tiny Leaders a better chance at viability. They are so useful and competitive that they are seeing very widespread standard play right now. Since their utility is eternal, they will always retain the little value and desirability they have.
Historically holding a value -/+ $5 or above, the enemy coloured cycle of the land nicknamed “Pain lands” (because they come in untapped but do damage to you when you tap them) have been re-printed so often. Most recently in Magic Origins, that the price has been reduced to around $2 or less. The allied coloured lands also saw multiple print-runs in core sets — meaning their price is only slightly higher. I’ve seen these lands for sale online at as low as 50 pence so for a rare dual-land. They seem a stupendously good value at this price. I’m not personally a big fan of the Pain-lands; they only fit into certain aggressive strategies and are useless, in my opinion, for formats like Commander where the sheer length of games is going to render that damage too much of a burden.
I also think these cards scare new players a bit. Inexperienced players tend to value their life-total too highly and can be scared to tap into it for something like fixing. They have a more specific usage than the previous two lands on this list, but fill their niche so well and have been in standard for so long that they are cheap enough to be worth looking at for players looking to shore up their mana-base.
Theros Temples/ Scrylands
These rare lands currently run about $2-$5. Once commanding a heftier price-tag of $10+, these cards are quite cheap right now because they have been superseded by the more flashy reprinted fetches and the more common tri-lands. Not to forget that Theros is getting close to cycling out of standard. Personally, I would wait to pick these up until Theros does go out of standard and the price drops even further, but if they fit into your standard deck then they are a no-brainer.
Scrying can be very powerful in a control strategy, and I like the filtering it gives me in singleton formats like Commander where seeing all of your deck can be a struggle. In terms of utility, these feel more akin to many uncommon lands. But if you can get them cheap enough then they are very useful. These cards are often overlooked but are still a decent choice.
- Reflecting Pool: With its recent reprint in Conspiracy and its ability to duplicate existing available mana free from drawback, Reflecting pool is a card worth having. Whilst not providing its own fixing, it can stop you from taking ill-effect from any lands you currently have in play that may require special conditions to produce certain colours of mana.
- Mana Confluence: Regarded as the “fixed” city of brass, this card still runs around $10 which is a more hefty price tag than most on this list. But if you really need a land that produces all colours of mana, then Mana Confluence is a good fit. Worth picking up as the price may increase once Theros has been out of print for a while.
- Check Lands: Printed in Magic 2010 through to Magic 2013, the first half of the cycle of check-lands (so called because they ‘check’ against land types in play) are a very good value due to their multiple printings. But the enemy coloured cycle printed in Innistrad is another set of lands where certain cards can be $10 or higher. You should seek out the more budget versions of the these lands, as the inconsistencies in the pricing and availability of the cycle can be frustrating.
I hope this has provided you some insights into how to make your multi-coloured decks run more smoothly without breaking the bank. Casual formats can be a great place to get the most out of the cards on this list as they tend to be less focused on tempo and have more turns per game. As always, be sure to seek these out at your local game store as they will generally be happy to shift some of their extra stock at reasonable prices. Plus that way you can also avoid shipping costs on cheaper cards, as that can cost as much as the cards themselves.
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