One of the things that I find the most fun (plus potentially leverageable), at least when given sufficient tools by the great overlords of a multicolored format, is tuning a mana base. In other contexts, that can involve choices on Signets or Karoos (Boros Garrison, Azorius Chancery, etc.), but as we don't currently live in such a universe, I am going to confine the conversation to green land search / ramp cards in a multicolor context.
Tuning such a mana base is about finding the answers to some good questions. The better the questions you ask, the more success you can leverage out of your mana base. The best example of recent tuning is the repeated success of Reid Duke by way of Sam Black and Andrew Cuneo... Allowing their Bant mana base to find Overgrown Tomb and to ultimately activate Nephalia Drownyard. At first blush, Overgrown Tomb seems a bit ugly. Even though Bant is a "blue" deck (I don't know that many people think of it as a core "green" or "white" deck, though technically speaking it is all three), the black dual land is B/G.
There are a couple of downriver conclusions (some obvious, some not so obvious) that we can pull out of that Overgrown Tomb...
First off, Overgrown Tomb is the only Farseek searchable tool we've got in the current Standard beyond basic Swamp. In the absence of Godless Shrine a Watery Grave, if we want our U/G/W deck to tap for black, that is option we've got.
Even beyond this baseline limitation, it is not at all clear that you would want one Watery Grave instead of one Overgrown Tomb. I don't know. Certainly, if you had access to several additional shocklands, you could do different stuff in the format. The deck's requirement on Nephalia Drownyard might scream "Watery Grave," but that is not an accurate tool match. In a straight B/U deck, Watery Grave would certainly be an appropriate choice (if available) because you theoretically want lots of access to black or blue options for your various costs and effects. Having a Watery Grave in a B/U deck means that you can have another source of black or blue mana, increasing your flexibility.
However, Nephalia Drownyard specifically wants you to tap for black and blue mana at the same time. Watery Grave taps for black or blue mana (one at a time). Ergo, if you had Watery Grave in your Bant deck for the sole purpose of setting up Nephalia Drownyard... It wouldn't. You would always still need another source of blue... Which is the exact same situation you are in with the actually played sole option of Overgrown Tomb.
With our current level of information, there is no indication that Watery Grave would be any more relevant than the Tomb for bullet support in Bant. It might be better, but that is a function of balancing all the mana costs in the deck. Sources that pair simultaneous colors like Signets and Karoos give you very different information. You probably wouldn't use Dimir Aqueduct for this purpose because you can't search for that with Farseek. If the present-day Bant deck magically had access to Karoos, it is more likely they would want Azorius Chancery. So many of its many gold effects—Detention Sphere, Azorius Charm, Supreme Verdict, and of course Sphinx's Revelation—are blue and white at the same time. Ergo if you were playing a gold-producing mana source, you would probably choose one with those capabilities.
So for some formats, you might want to frame a question around gold simultaneous production and the gold choices you've chosen.
… Which tells us not so much about the present day. On that note, here is my current favorite deck from the present Standard format, obviously influenced by Jun Yu's deck from the recent SCG Standard Open in Las Vegas:
From a macro, these are the things that I was thinking about before putting the deck together (and then we will get to tuning the mana):
There are four major branches of decks in Standard:
1. Other midrange green decks [that generally win by creature attacks]
2. Other attack decks [the most important and successful of which are Rakdos and Rakdos Red]
4. Sphinx's Revelation decks
1. It is not difficult to bias your deck to win a green heads-up. The lowest impact portion of the green-on-green matchup is the three mana hitter (typically Centaur Healer or Loxodon Smiter)... You can just not play those.
2. You can make a green deck that basically "undoes" whatever a red or B/R deck does every turn.
3. These have to be dealt with on a per deck basis; the lowest cost way to deal with many of these decks is to steal from them (i.e., with a maindeck Ground Seal), but that is not a consistent way to win, especially game 1 a large portion of the time. Biasing your deck necessarily exposes you, and I have chosen this to be my exposed area (in return for percentage elsewhere).
4. This is supposed to be the most lopsided point of the metagame against midrange green decks. That means that you can actually get extra value by biasing in this direction.
There are lots of ways to bias in favor of point four. One of them is simply to play Sphinx's Revelation yourself. You might not always resolve it, but you can "pick a fight" against an opponent on their turn, often with more mana they have. This can also help you keep pace. Another way is to play lots of cards that are disproportionately effective against the opponent and all at once.
While many Sphinx's Revelation decks (i.e., Reid's deck) want to play against midrange green decks, they are still softer to some creatures than others. One such creature is Thundermaw Hellkite, which gains value before they can trade with it.
When you play a lot of card advantage creatures, the most pivotal point of consideration is simply to resolve them. If you keep getting two-for-ones and you can fall back on some number of Sphinx's Revelations, it is relatively easy to keep tapping your opponent's mana while coming away with a bonus. You might be surprised how many games you can win against a Sphinx's Revelation deck just by making the opponent play fair (or at least play a similar game to you). I have had consistently good results against Reid's deck (albeit not played by actual Reid) and great results against Gerry's deck.
The secret was building a mana base that could take advantage of four Four FOUR copies of Cavern of Souls!
Everything else fell from a desire to play Cavern of Souls. Hint: My first Cavern is consistently set to "Dragon."
You can accept this thinking or not; I plan to play a big event soon and would be happy with 74 of these in front of me. Back to making the mana base.
Every single deck in the history of Magic: The Gathering can only get returns based on its ability to leverage its mana base. There is really and truly nothing beyond that. Would we play all Cruel Ultimatums if we could? I mean, good luck making your first play on turn 7 provided you hit the right mana!
My deck is particularly limited by the decision to play four copies of Cavern of Souls. Cavern of Souls can fix mana, but only insofar that it can give you the first green for Borderland Ranger; it is actually inconvenient for using a Kessig Wolf Run. Remember the discussion about Watery Grave for Nephalia Drownyard (above)? A not-uncommon situation is having a Huntmaster of the Fells off a Rootbound Crag in play (Rootbound Crag SCREAMS "Kessig Wolf Run colors!") and deciding to pass your turn without playing a spell, instead putting X through a Wolf token and the Wolf Run... But being unable to muster the GR catalyst required.
Question 1: What are my fixers and what can they do for me?
One, more than the other, begs a second question:
Question 2: How many green sources do I need to play four copies of Farseek?
My deck has only ten true sources of green, which is honestly a little thin for Farseek. However, the other considerations for the mana base—including the non-compromise on Cavern of Souls—made this the best we could do.
A corollary to that, though, is that I can't play Garruk Primal Hunter, which costs GGG. I tried. No dice.
The baseline costs in the deck look like this:
They are concentrated mostly as single color in the base color (of 22 green spells, none of them cost GG); the tougher costs are actually in the secondary and two-spot spells at RR and UUW. So really, we need to figure out how to get at least twelve sources of red + RR on demand, and accomplish UU as our only blue spell but on demand.
You'll notice that there are exactly two Mountains and one Plains in the deck despite there being more than twice the white requirements in the deck than blue (and really extravagant red when you consider the sideboard). If you consider Cavern of Souls as a primary source of RR for purpose of casting Thundermaw Hellkite only, there are eleven primary sources. But remember, we can potentially piggyback on Farseek or Borderland Ranger to get a second source of red. With two Mountains and two Islands, we can always close UU or RR with either a Farseek or a Borderland Ranger.
With the spells the way they are currently configured, you could make a strong argument for a second Steam Vents over a second Hallowed Fountain. I often find I need operating white for Selesnya Charm or Restoration Angel on my opponent's turn, whereas if I am going to commit red (either for Thundermaw Hellkite or Bonfire of the Damned) I rarely need it on my opponent's turn (usually only for weird situations like Wolf Running their guy to Selesnya Charm it), so I biased one white mana there.
Even though I tried to promise myself I would only concentrate on one deck before Grand Prix Atlantic City, I wanted to see if I could accomplish more-or-less the same things while dramatically improving my mana base.
When you lose Huntmaster of the Fells (and Pillar of Flame), you start having to dip into the Appetite for Brains of the format (if you grok), and I ended up with Centaur Healer and Rhox Faithmender, which obviously don't do the same things as Huntmaster of the Fells everywhere.
I saw Caleb Durward make an improbable comeback against a much more powerful deck in the Invitational coverage, so I added one Angel of Serenity that I can Garruk Tutor for.
This deck tries to do most of the stuff the other one is quite good at but with obviously less strained mana. Yes, I found myself missing Bonfire of the Damned quite a bit.
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Centaur Healer
- 1 Drogskol Reaver
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
I usually side out my Avacyn's Pilgrims when I bring in Supreme Verdict. The matchups where Supreme Verdict is awesome rarely have to do with turn 1 speed (same reason hitters are weak in midrange vs. midrange). You get marginally better Sphinx's Revelations here, they are easier to cast, and you have twice as many. That said, I like the Naya shell much more for the simple reason that it wins much, much more.
If you want to completely ignore / never steal from / scoop it up to the non-interactive decks while making yourself much better against the beatdown decks, you can move the Ground Seals and Angel and play a second Drogskol Reaver and all four Centaur Healers main. If you were that kind of lunatic, you would also probably add the other three Rhox Faithmenders to the sideboard. I am not that kind of a lunatic.
As for the mana, it is incredibly clean. You don't have to dip into Hinterland Harbors or Sunpetal Groves at all to get what you want. You can actually afford the luxury of three Plains and two basic Islands for your Borderland Rangers, casting everything easily and consistently. But with four 1/1s over four 5/5s, yeah... The deck is more apt to die flooded.
Fun thing with the Bant shell though: remember about biasing against [legitimate] Sphinx's Revelation decks? You lose Cavern of Souls ? Thundermaw Hellkite in game 1, but turn 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim ? turn 2 Sands of Delirium is hard to beat. All they can really do to race is to try to Thragtusk you, and your Thragtusk can't be countered. Block!