Mana. We all need it. We all want more of it. Sometimes, we get flooded and that’s annoying, but secretly we like it because when we finally do get some gas we can just FLOOR it.

The worst thing that can happen to your game is to be starved of mana. Not being able to cast your spells is possibly the worst feeling in the world.

There are countless ways to make sure you get the mana you need, and when you need it. The first step toward this perfect goal happens while you’re building your deck. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the mechanics of this today, simply because it is probably the most common topic in all of Magic writing. I will share my basic strategy, though – my general approach to deckbuilding for EDH is as follows:

  • 59 cards
  • Commander
  • 40 lands

I can adjust that as needed, but when I first sit down, that’s where I start. Then, to get the proper ratio of mana to cost, I do a quick count of how many times a mana symbol appears as a cost on all of my cards.  I then make sure that my mana-producing effects can make at least half that much. (In a mono-black deck, for example, if all cards and effects total up to 76 black mana symbols in costs, I need at least 38 ways to produce black mana. 38 Swamp would be the simplest way to do this.)

Obviously with this approach, the more colours I add to my deck, the more complicated my manabase has to get. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a good approach and has served me well.

The second way to ensure you get the right mana when you need it is with fixing. Dual lands, rainbow lands, and rocks do this for you. A Command Tower is a great example – possibly the best ‘rainbow’ land printed for EDH. It guarantees you all of your colours and also covers the niche case of your opponents using an effect that checks the colours of mana your lands produce. It’s a small upside, but every advantage counts.

Rocks are artifacts that produce mana. Sol Ring is the best in our format, and is a constant target for discussions over banning. Personally, I don’t think it should be; you basically need it in your opening hand to get the most value from it.  If you feel the need to mulligan aggressively to get your Sol Ring in your opening hand, then you’re likely playing at a table where you need it anyway.

And then, there are mana dorks – small creatures that produce mana for you. Most of these are green, but most colours have access to them in small amounts. Llanowar Elves are the simplest and oldest of dorks, and I am a huge fan of Quirion Elves in G/x decks.

Finally, fixing comes from land ramp. These are spells that go get lands (like Cultivate), and effects like Solemn Simulacrum‘s ETB trigger. Now, when it comes to fixing, this is the best option.

A general rule of thumb is that dirt (meaning land) beats rocks beats dorks.

The Weakness of Dorks

Creatures are fragile. They die in combat, they die to sweepers, they get stolen and you’re forced to sacrifice them. The whole game of Magic centers on creatures – and creatures dying. Every set brings new ways to kill creatures, ways that get slotted into just about every EDH deck your opponents will bring to bear against you. Most EDH decks win through creatures, and every deck, as a result, is loaded with ways to deal with those creatures.

In a deck that relies on dorks, you can probably run out to seven or eight mana being available on turn four. On turn five, you cast a huge threat…and the next player drops a Wrath of God.  All of a sudden, you’re out of gas, on par with everyone else, and you’re now seen as a major threat (and for good reason) – you’re running fast mana, have dropped a big threat, and likely have more.

This game will not go well for you.

Unless you build your deck around your creatures dying, dorks are a liability. They can put you ahead, and if you’re very lucky they will keep you ahead. But that luck doesn’t happen very often, and this plan of attack will often do you more harm than good. They are a paper fortress, and they will eventually collapse on you.

Throwing Rocks

Artifacts that produce mana are awesome. We’ve been gifted, of late, with some of the best rocks yet in the form of Chromatic Lantern, Darksteel Ingot, and Commander’s Sphere. There are countless others, of course, and I won’t bother going into the nitty-gritty of which ones are the best.

There are downsides to mana-producing artifacts, though. Most of these cost three mana, meaning you’re not likely to drop one until turn two at the earliest, and more often turn three. This is not bad, but it also means you’re investing mana early for a reward later on. In addition to costing three mana, most rocks only produce one, albeit that one is of any colour more often than not. There are two-drop rocks, and one-drop rocks of course (the aforementioned Sol Ring is just one mana, and the Ravnica Signets still see some play at the two-drop slot), but the majority of cards in this category cost around three mana to put into play.

In the long run, this is okay.  However,on an early turn you’re faced with the choice of furthering your board right now, or setting yourself up for later. This is a decision that changes every game, and for every player, and making that decision is fodder for a whole article in itself.

Artifacts also have a lot of the same weaknesses as creatures. They can be destroyed, there are sweepers that catch them, and either way the result of that is even worse than their dork counterparts. When your Llanowar Elf dies, you lose a creature and the production of one mana, and the turn you cast it. When your Chromatic Lantern gets blown up, you lose the three mana you spent to cast it, the turn that you could have advanced your board instead, and the mana (along with perfect fixing, in this example). A rock is not as fragile as a dork, but they still get blown up often enough that it’s a risk.

This Land is My Land

Land, on the other hand, is perfect. You put them in your deck anyway, and you know you’re going to need them. Lots of abilities get you more land, and there are tons of (mostly green) ways to cheat them into play. There are countless options for fixing with lands as well, in the form of cards like Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, and even Journeyer’s Kite. The Fetchlands are premiere examples of this as well, even if they only get one of two types.

The upside to lands is that they stick around. Unless you’re in a metagame that promotes mass land destruction, you’re unlikely to lose basic lands, or usually even Dual lands. There is some amount of land destruction that is accepted at most tables, but it is generally used for utility lands like Cabal Coffers or Maze of Ith – lands that really push your opponent’s deck into danger areas.

Fetch a Forest, and that Forest will likely be with you forever. There are creatures that get lands, and they have all of the weaknesses of standard dorks, but they will have already gotten you your land. There are artifacts that get you land, and the same argument can be made for them – if they die, you still have the land they grabbed for you. There are lands that get lands, and there are spells that get lands. A Fetchland is excellent, because there are very, very few things that can interfere with them. A spell like Cultivate or Skyshroud Claim can be countered, but players tend to save their counters for more threatening cards.

Although you need to follow the same decision trees that you do with a rock, the end result is more positive on every side – you will always have the land that you get.

Lands are important, effective, and they stick around for the whole game (in most cases). They do not suffer from summoning sickness, most sweepers specifically exclude them, and people tend to not target them for destruction, theft, or forced sacrifice.

Dirt > Rocks > Dorks

When building your next deck, look at your ramp options. Do you really need those Signets? Or can they be replaced with an effect that pulls a land instead? Do you really want to rely on that Skyshroud Elf, or would a Jungle Shrine be better?

Sometimes, you want a rock, and that’s fine. Sometimes, a creature matters because it has stats and a subtype, and that is also perfectly fine. But a land will always matter, and in a vacuum a land will always beat a rock, which will always beat a dork.

-James