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Article - Exploring Manabases - Part 1

Started by Maqi, 13-08-2012, 10:49:54 AM

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Hello everyone!

Some talk has been going on lately about Highlander Magic being on the decline.

I agree to some extent! Here's my take on it: In order to make HL flourish again, we players as a community need to become more active. That can mean different things, such as starting more meaningful threads, posting tournament results and decklists regularly, hosting more tournaments with good prize support, commenting more on our forum or elsewhere, starting and maintaining blogs, creating and sharing own content etc.

I'm going to follow the last approach. I plan on writing several articles about Highlander strategy, deckbuilding and other HL-related topics.

My first article series will mainly be aimed at unexperienced and intermediate Highlander players. So for all you old-timers out there, that have been around for a long time, there won't be anything too exciting or new to be found. Nevertheless, I feel it can help from time to time to remember the basic groundwork on which we all build upon. So even for you there might be something worthwhile to discover (at least I hope there will be ;)).

Without further ado, here's the article:

Exploring Manabases - Part 1: The Lands of Highlander

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
- Francis Bacon

What the english philosopher wanted to say here, is that man has to adhere to the laws of nature in order to shape the world in the way he wants it to be and thus become the ruler over the natural. In other words, mind cannot rule supreme over matter, it has to abide by the eternal laws that exist outside of it.

The same can be said about Magic: The Gathering. The concept of mana is a core element of the card game that we all love so dearly. It limits which card we can play at any given time. Consequently, cards that allow us to cheat on mana or casting costs are often times the most powerful and broken ones in the game (e.g. Tinker, Channel, Black Lotus etc.).

To make use of the spells in your deck, you have to adhere to their cost restrictions and to efficiently manage the mana strucure of your deck is of utmost importance.

Some general rules apply to almost every format of Magic but have to be modified when applied in the context of the Highlander format. You often hear things like "you should play about 24 lands in your 60 card deck" or "17 lands in your limited pile". These statements refer to the correct ratio between lands and spells. Both of the above sample statements suggest a 40% ratio of lands in your deck.
Because of the Highlander spoils mulligan however, this ratio drops to 33% and slightly more. Depending on the average casting cost of your deck and your mana curve, this results in 33 to 36 lands most of the time.

So, with the correct number of lands in mind, let's move on to the specific lands that are used in our format. Highlander offers a plethora of different lands to choose from. Building a manabase for your deck may seem like a difficult task, given the many options that you have.

Naturally some lands are just better than others (Raging Ravine is just better than Shivan Oasis for example*). The actual cardpool to choose from is thus more narrow than one might think at first sight.

*Yeah, i know... in the case of Tsabo's Web this might not be true! ;)

There is no need to reinvent the wheel and try to establish a theoretical hierarchy of lands from scratch. Experience and the format's history have shown which lands are the cream of the crop:

1. Fetchlands

These lands, together with Dual Lands and Shocklands (see below), allow for stable multicolor manabases. You usually want the maximum number of them (which means every fetchland, that allows to fetch your on-color duals).

Paying one life point is a neglible cost in most cases. Indeed Polluted Delta & Co. have a lot more things going on for them. The most important ones are the following:

2. Dual Lands

The classic! They've been around since the primeval stage of magic. And still their sheer power level reminds us of these origins - being, in a vacuum, just strictly better than their basic land brethren.

Efficient manabases exploit the synergy between fetchlands and dual lands. Since duals have two basic land types they can be found via fetching.

3. Shock Lands

The Ravnica lands. Just worse than duals, nevertheless quite the deal. First and foremost because they too can be found by fetchlands (thanks to their basic land types).

Paying two life for an untapped land is a harsh cost at times. Especially when you take the damage from your fetchlands into account. One method to circumvent their drawback is to fetch them at the end of your opponents turn with your untap step just waiting around the corner.

4. Scars Lands

The above three land types, fetchlands, duals and shocklands, provide the backbone of a highlander deck's manabase. From there on however, you still need about 10 to 25 additional lands, depending on the number of colors and the type of deck you play.

To fill these slots, Scars lands are a good option available to you. One should note their strengths and weaknesses however.

On the plus side, they provide untapped dual colored mana without drawback when dropped as your first, second or third land. This characteristic makes them suitable especially for decks that want to deploy their stuff during the early stage of the game.

Slower decks, that focus on more expensive cards (read cmc 4+), will suffer relatively more from lands coming into play tapped at crucial stages in the mid
through late game.

5. M10 + Innistrad Lands

These lands actually behave quite the opposite of Scars lands. They tend to enter the battlefield untapped during the mid and late stages of the game, but may often come tapped during the first few turns.

Consequently their usefulness is maximized in slower decks, while fast decks will usually want to eschew them.

6. Pain Lands

Usually these are valued just a bit worse as Scars lands. Indeed they fulfill the same role in the decks they go in. They offer fast access to two colors. And often times you will find these in the same manabases where Scars lands are used.

The damage can add up quickly however, and between shock lands, fetches and pain lands you might start your average game at a virtual life total of 16 or even less...

7. Filter Lands

Knowing when to make use of filter lands is, in my observation, not a common feat.

They are especially suited when your deck contains many cards that cost double or even triple colored mana of one sort, e.g. Elspeth, Knight Errant, Jace, the Mind Scultor, Cryptic Command, Eternal Witness, Garruk Wildspeaker, Hymn to Tourach, Phyrexian Arena and the like.

If this is not the case, you mostly fare better by replacing a filter land with a different sort of dual. Qasali Pridemage for example can easily be cast by Tundra + Brushland. Having Tundra + Wooded Bastion needlessly opens you up to the risk of being stripped off your Tundra (via Wasteland for example), which leaves you with a mostly useless Wooded Bastion.

Obviously, the above statement aims mainly at 3+ colored decks. Usually every two colored deck will use the approriate filter land it has access to, in order to provide the needed second color (e.g. Island + Sunken Ruins = ) or to turn their basics into double opposite mana ().

8. Manlands

Lands with abilites are always a boon to any deck that can afford to use them. They essentially emulate a spell and therefore reduce the probability of being out of gas during the later turns in the game.

Lavaclaw Reaches is not as impressive as the other four lands. First, its raw powerlevel pales in comparison. Second, Black and Red are at often times only the splash colors of a deck and therefore an ETB-tapped land that only provides splash mana is not what you want.

Stirring Wildwood and Raging Ravine however often find their way in Naya-Aggro decks while Celestial Colonnade is found in Bant lists or even in UW-Control builds as an uncounterable finisher that survives your own Wrath of God.

While Creeping Tar Pit might seem like the strongest of the five manlands, only few archetypes can make use of it. It usually hurts the manabase of aggressive decks too much to be included (since these decks are base green most of the time). Then again, BUG-Aggro-Control and UB-Builds (usually considered tier 1.5 decks) make good use of this unblockable source of damage.

9. Basic Lands

Last but not least - the basic lands. Not providing two colors of mana is a huge liability for multicolored decks. Therefore most 3+ colored decks don't want too many of them.
However, basics aren't subject to the vast variety of hate cards that are popular and provide a stable and reliable source of colored mana.

In addition to that, there are some cards which access basic lands - and only basics lands - in your library (for example Sakura-Tribe Elder). In that way basic lands add a way of finding the right colors at the right time to your deck.

Of special note are the snow-covered versions. Those have applications with certain cards, such as Withering Wisps, Tainted Pact or Into tne North.

That's it for part 1 of "Exploring Manabases". In the second installment of this article series I will show two common Highlander decks and discuss the ins and outs of their respective manabases - 5c-Aggro and Bant.

I hope you enjoyed my first article. I personally am looking forward to write much more content for our superb format in the future!

'til then!



I will link that in my next weekly column.


Well written and good article overall. Waiting for the 2nd part as two explores is better than one.


I'm looking forward to read your next article as well. Good job!



With regard to the discussion about connecting the HL content in the web with each other I linked this very well written article to the german mtg-forum.

+1 by the way.


Primer article material, especially I'd consider linking any new player to this next time they've got trouble identifying what land mana sources goes to his new deck.



I have translated second part as well. When will be published next part? I have responses from several readers, that are eager to see part 3.

Anyway thank you for article again, it is very helpful for beginners and new members of our HL community.