Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Mixing the Fixing

This week's challenge at work is to build a three colour deck. The obstacles that you face when building such a deck are similar whether building for competitive play or on a budget, but the solutions available to you are different. In both cases, building a mana base that can support your spells is the fundamental issue to be resolved. When building on a budget, however, the tools are more restricted.

When building a three colour deck on a budget, there are three primary things to consider:

1. Why do you need three colours?
2. What tools are available to build your mana base?
3. What can you do to reduce the stress on your mana base?

1. Why do you need three colours?

There are many reasons why you might want to be in three particular colours, but the key is to understand what they are. If your deck can achieve its goal using only two colours, then you should probably consider cutting the third colour to make your mana base more consistent. Everybody is different, but for me, happiness is good mana. Nevertheless, every Constructed deck sprouts from some germinating idea and that idea may demand three colours. Here are just a few possibilities.

Building around a three colour card: While there are only so many three colour cards available, it certainly happens from time to time that you might want to build around one. If you want to build a deck around Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker then you're going to need to be in Black, Blue and Red.

Building around a particular theme: Let's say you want to play Spirits in Standard. You identify the key cards to be Drogskol Captain and Lingering Souls. Whatever other cards you include in your deck, you're going to need to figure out a way to produce White, Blue and Black mana.

Playing the best cards for a particular strategy: If you want to build an aggressive deck that includes Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape and Loam Lion, then you're going to need to be in Green, Red and White.

Once again, the key here is identifying why you want to be in these colours. This will help you later when you have to start making some hard decisions.

2. What tools are available to build your mana base?

If you have a lot of resources available to you, then you shouldn't have trouble finding a set of Rare lands and maybe some artifacts that meet your needs. When you're on a budget, you need to be a little more careful. Understanding the tools available to you at Common and Uncommon will be important. For example, in the current Standard format (just before the release of Return to Ravnica) the only real mana fixing lands available are Evolving Wilds and Shimmering Grotto. While you can certainly give it a go with these lands, I personally wouldn't try it unless I was using Green as my primary colour. With Green, you have additional access to cards like Farseek that can help to fix your mana. Artifacts include Manalith, Mycosynth Wellspring, Traveler's Amulet, Horizon Spellbomb, Gem of Becoming, Sphere of the Suns and Vessel of Endless Rest. Most of these options are pretty slow, so unless your strategy allows you time to setup your mana fixing, they may or may not get the job done. Of these, Sphere of the Suns is generally the best option as a reasonable fixer. Regardless of your format, you should know what's available to help fix your mana.

From this, you can capture what will become a recurring pattern: the key categories of mana fixing tools are lands, artifacts and Green fixers.

If you're not restricted to Standard, there are number of popular options for budget deck builders:


Fetchlands: Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds
Shardlands: Arcane Sanctum, Crumbling Necropolis, Jungle Shrine, Savage Lands, Seaside Citadel
Vivid Lands: Vivid Crag, Vivid Creek, Vivid Grove, Vivid Marsh, Vivid Meadow
Ravnica "Karoo" Lands: Azorius Chancery, Dimir Aqueduct, Rakdos Carnarium, Gruul Turf, Selesnya Sanctuary, Orzhov Basilica, Golgari Rot Farm, Simic Growth Chamber, Izzet Boilerworks, Boros Garrison

Of course, there are more options, but these represent some good examples. The upcoming Guildgate cycle in Return to Ravnica block will add a new set of staples to this list.


Ravnica Signets: Azorius Signet, Dimir Signet, Rakdos Signet, Gruul Signet, Selesnya Signet, Orzhov Signet, Golgari Signet, Simic Signet, Izzet Signet, Boros Signet
Mirrodin Talismans: Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Impulse, Talisman of Indulgence, Talisman of Progress, Talisman of Unity

There are others, such as the obelisk cycle (e.g. Obelisk of Esper) or the borderpost cycle (e.g. Veinfire Borderpost) from Shards of Alara. These tend to be more slow and ponderous but they are options for slower decks.

Green Fixing

Ramp spells: Farseek, Rampant Growth, Cultivate, etc.
Creatures: Borderland Ranger, Dawntreader Elk, Avacyn's Pilgrim, etc.

One thing that you'll notice is that all of these options take a little time to setup. Non-rare mana fixing notoriously enters the battlefield tapped, so in my opinion it will be very difficult to build a three colour aggressive deck with a consistent mana base. Reliably being able to produce Green, Red and White on the first turn to support Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape and Loam Lion is going to lead to some frustrating games. For this reason, in budget decks I think you're looking at midrange and control strategies when you're talking about three colour decks. Aggressive strategies really need to be thinking about restricting themselves to one or two colours.

That being said, this list is not exhaustive and you can see that there are many mana fixing options available if you know where to look.

Once you have identified them, you need to identify how many mana fixing options you have available to your particular deck and how much you can afford the drawback. At the end of the day, your deck will tend to under perform if all of your lands enter the battlefield tapped.

3. What can you do to reduce the stress on your mana base?

One of the best things that you can do is to ease the burden on your mana. Are you trying to cast several spells for each colour? One approach is to have a primary and secondary colour along with a "splash" colour. In the Spirits deck I mentioned above, you might decide that the entire deck can be built using White and Blue spells and that you only need Black to pay the flashback cost on Lingering Souls. If this is the case, then you probably don't need many Black sources and probably don't need a Black source very early. This means that you can build your deck to have good Blue and White mana and include a couple of Swamps along with four Evolving Wilds to go and find a Swamp later in the game if you haven't drawn one already. Similarly, if you only need Red to cast Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker in an otherwise Blue and Black deck, then you can have a similar setup.

If you do want to cast spells in all three colours, then another way to limit the burden is to restrict yourself to spells that only require a single mana of a particular colour, especially for those spells that you want to cast in the first few turns. So, while Murder is a great spell, it's going to be difficult to cast in the same deck as Volcanic Geyser and Mind Control. Do yourself a favour and stick to cards that you will actually be able to cast with your mana base.

The more demanding your spells are on your mana, the more sources of each colour you're going to need. You may need to get creative by mixing the different types of fixing available to you. Take a look at the deck below. While it is certainly not perfect, it takes advantage of all three types of mana fixing in order to be able to cast many of the powerful spells that made the Jund deck so deadly in its day, while still being a budget version of the strategy. While the deck has taxing mana requirements, it is a midrange deck that is happy to spend the first turn or two setting up its mana before taking over during the middle turns.

Jund on a Budget

4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Savage Lands
4 Mountain
5 Forest
5 Swamp

4 Putrid Leech
4 Sprouting Thrinax
3 Borderland Ranger
4 Bloodbraid Elf
3 Broodmate Dragon

Other Spells
2 Veinfire Borderpost
2 Firewild Borderpost
3 Bituminous Blast
4 Blightning
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Terminate
2 Resounding Thunder
1 Garruk Wildspeaker

While this is certainly not the final word on mana, these are the first things that I'd take into consideration when building a budget three colour deck.

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