Magic the Gathering on a Budget: Getting the Right Mana Base

Today, John brings you some great tips on keeping the utility of your multi-color decks high while keeping the costs low in this Magic On A Budget entry


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?

Refuge Lands

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.

refuge lands

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.

Pain Lands

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.

pain lands

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.


Honourable mentions

  • 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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John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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