The most important thing to understand in deckbuilding is what a format's mana allows you to cast. As we see more sweet cards from Return to Ravnica we'll find more situations where we'll want to play extra colors to get the one last awesome gold card that isn't in our guilds into our deck. The question is can we make the mana work?
I'm going to look at how mana bases in Standard will probably be built between the release of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash.
First let's review our options.
Five M13 duals + five Innistrad duals = a full cycle of "Glacial Fortresses"
Five shocklands + five gatelands
Other mana fixing lands:
In addition to these lands that make casting our spells easier the format will have a lot of lands that we'll likely to want to play that make it harder to cast our spells.
It will have the ten Innistrad block activated ability lands Cathedral of War Haunted Fengraf Seraph Sanctuary Reliquary Tower Hellion Crucible and whatever Return to Ravnica gives us. (My count of set numbers leads me to believe that Grove of the Guardian will not be part of a complete cycle but I could be wrong. Also if I'm right that it isn't part of a full cycle and there is at least one unknown land that land might be an additional color fixer. This article assumes it isn't.)
Outside of that we'll have some green mana fixing and some artifacts but I'll get to those later.
So what can we do with that?
Well given that we'll have full cycles of everything outside of Return to Ravnica I want us to assume for the rest of this article that red and black are reversed in the color pie so we're looking at WURBG. This allows me to use the terms allied colors enemy colors and more importantly wedges (three-color groups with two enemy color pairs) and arcs (three-color groups with two allied color pairs) when discussing color pairs to refer to guilded and non-guilded color pairs.
If we want to play an enemy color deck like U/B (choosing this example as a reminder of how I'm using my terms) we have the following options:
This may look like a lot of options but I can't really imagine ever using most of those cards to fix my mana in a two-color deck so really our mana base is going to be horrible. Yes you could try to play Innistrad Block Constructed Boros in Standard but why would you? You'd be choosing to play a deck that has absolutely appalling mana without making it any better in a world where everyone else has near perfect mana. On top of that you wouldn't get any powerful gold spells. Basically I think every enemy color deck will be completely unplayable.
With that out of the way let's look at allied color decks.
R/U will have Sulfur Falls Steam Vents Izzet Guildgate and all the multicolor options. It may or may not be interested in Desolate Lighthouse but it will often want at least one. It's important to understand that Izzet Guildgate is bad. It makes your Sulfur Falls worse and slows you down so you'd like to avoid it if possible but is there if you need it. If you have something that cares about gatelands things obviously change.
Some two-color decks will have easy mana and some two-color decks will have hard mana. This basically comes down to how many spells you have that cost RR or UU on turn 2 or 3. You have enough duals that you can plan to have RR and UU in your deck and reliably cast both on turn 2 but you should accept that you're probably not doing anything on turn 1 if that's the case. Consider:
This is the most basic possible allied color mana. This default gives us eighteen sources of each color and none of them require that we "lock in" a single color the way that a fetchland does so this is a "hard" eighteen sources. That's a lot. That's not "happy playing Geralf's Messenger" a lot but it could do it in a pinch. This mana is basically too good for a control or midrange deck. You'd want to add some Desolate Lighthouses and maybe Cavern of Souls or something to get a little more value and you'd probably want to start by trimming the gatelands.
Consider U/R Delver. This deck has very difficult mana in that it really wants both of its colors on the first turn so that it can cast Delver of Secrets or Pillar of Flame. Remember this is the archetype in which Christian Calcano played only three Sulfur Falls in his Grand Prix Minneapolis winning deck because mana on turn 1 was so important. So gatelands are basically out of the question.
Maybe our deck looks something like:
I'm not sure if that mana is exactly right but to compare it to Calcano's to show how much better the new mana base is Calcano had twelve Island seven Mountain three Sulfur Falls and a Desolate Lighthouse. He used one more card to get the same number of blue sources and one less red source which isn't that big of a difference except that that's counting Cavern of Souls as only giving colorless mana. This deck has ten lands that let it cast Stromkirk Noble on turn 1 and fourteen for Delver of Secrets.
In conclusion here two-color decks will have enough options that they'll want to do very different things depending on whether they're trying to maximize untapped mana on turn 1 double color on turn 2 or easy late game requirements. Sounds good.
Green is a little different than other colors because it has Arbor Elf potentially Avacyn's Pilgrim Abundant Growth Borderland Ranger Farseek and more plus whatever good options we see from Return to Ravnica. This means that green decks will generally be slanted more toward green but it's still a similar position overall.
So we'll have excellent mana for allied decks and bad mana for enemy decks. What about three-color decks?
First of all obviously if you're playing three colors two of your colors will be enemies so the mana will be "strictly worse" than two-color enemy decks. However the payoff will be much much higher. You get one or two pairs of gold cards instead of zero so there's actually a reason to do it and it's far more likely that you'll have a good deck this way. How well will it work?
Well let's look at a relatively difficult case first. Let's say you want to play a three-color non-green aggro deck. That's about as hard as it gets. I'm going to be a little conservative here and say it's at least an arc rather than a wedge because I don't think the mana will work for an aggressive deck in a wedge and don't think the incentives will be there anyway.
Ok this mana will be super complicated. Basically if you can choose a central color and two splashes like Zombies (this would involve green but now imagine a case where it isn't used for fixing and is instead just for top-end spells like Thragtusk and maybe a Zombie or two); the mana for that will be very easy. You can play four shocklands and four M13 style lands in each of your splash colors giving you eight sources of each then round out with a few basics Evolving Wilds if your requirements are steep or Cavern of Souls if you're splashing creatures. You get a million sources of your primary color and relatively smooth mana since you have so many Swamps in your deck because of the shocklands and your M13 duals should all come into play untapped.
Things get tricky if you want to try to cast Delver of Secrets Snapcaster Mage Vampire Nighthawk and Crimson Muckwader. I'm not recommending that creature base; I'm just using it as an example. You have heavy blue and black requirements but you need early red especially if you're also trying to play Pillar of Flame. You also need a lot of Swamps specifically which is tricky because black is no longer in the middle of red and blue. A mana base for those creatures might look something like:
Fifteen blue fifteen black thirteen red twelve "Swamps" eight blue mana on turn 1—it isn't pretty. It's going to be pretty clunky and I'd probably try to change the creatures to make it work and might tweak that a bit depending on what kind of support spells I have. But this is to show that even if your requirements are pretty rough you can force it work if you have to.
What about wedges? Imagine we decide that Diregraf Captain and Negate are extremely important for our Zombie deck but we also want Brimstone Volley and Falkenrath Aristocrat. Again I'm not advocating that; I'm just using it as an example. We also have to play Geralf's Messenger obviously.
Seriously though stick to arcs especially if you're aggressive. Don't worry—this won't be hard. The gold spells will make you want to stick to arcs anyway.
Five-Color Control anyone?
Let's imagine that we're not base green we're just splashing Thragtusk Abrupt Decay and Naturalize. I'm not going to try to build a five-color list for this format without knowing any gold cards. Instead I'll update the four-color deck from my article yesterday as an exercise and throw in a couple Dreadbores just so I have to make the mana work.
Shimmering Grotto is excellent when the colors you have the least of are on cheap spells that you don't need to cast early—Naturalize and Dreadbore are ideal examples. It's worse for casting Thragtusk because you want to cast that on five and making it cost six is a big problem but Cavern of Souls can step in to help there.
Transguild Promenade is extremely slow. It will be awesome in Limited so it might feel like you want to play it in Constructed but unless you're willing to do a lot of work it's best to stay away. What kind of work is required? Well you're spending your second turn playing a land. That means you have to count it as a two-drop when you're thinking about your curve. It doesn't work in the deck above because I'm playing Abrupt Decay Dreadbore Augur of Bolas and Sign in Blood—I want to play a spell on turn 2. I'm planning to play a tapped land on turn 1 and I can't follow that up with another land as my turn 2 play.
If you want to play Transguild Promenade you need to be able to cast relevant spells on turns 1 and 3 to make up for the fact that you're wasting your second turn. You need to have a primary color such that you can count on playing a Tragic Slip or a Pillar of Flame on turn 1 to kill their first creature to buy you time to play a land on the second turn. Alternatively you need a lot of copies of a Firespout or Slagstorm style effect that can stabilize the board for you on turn 3 if you're way behind. I don't know if this kind of deck will be possible but if you're looking to splash expensive spells it's probably better than relying on Shimmering Grotto. But why aren't you just using Chromatic Lantern or Gilded Lotus at that point?
Well it's harder than I may have thought to build mana bases without knowing what spells I want to cast but I hope this has given you something to think about and better direction as you're evaluating what kinds of decks you might want to consider while going over Return to Ravnica spoilers.
Thanks for reading
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