Mana Bases in Ixalan Standard

Ixalan releases on Friday, September 29, and on that date the mana bases in Standard will undergo a radical change. Creaturelands (Needle Spires), battlelands (Sunken Hollow), and shadowlands (Game Trail) rotate out—allied-color checklands rotate in.

These “new” lands compare favorably to the battlelands and shadowlands. Take Glacial Fortress, for example. In a blue-white Approach of the Second Sun deck, it is strictly better than Prairie Stream because you only need to have one basic land rather than two. What’s more, its condition is already satisfied with Irrigated Farmland!

There are scenarios where a checkland is worse than a battleland, but these would involve, say, a Jeskai build with a lot of Mountains, no Islands, and no Plains. Such mana bases will be rare. For most decks, checklands will be much better than battlelands.

Comparing them to the shadowlands, I expect that most decks would prefer the checklands as well. Let’s consider the blue-white Approach of the Second Sun deck again. Port Town would enter the battlefield tapped more than 50% of the time on turn 6 or later, even if you had as many as 16 basics in your deck. That was a big downside for a deck that aimed to cast expensive spells in the mid-to-late game. The corresponding number for Glacial Fortress would be less than 1%. So checklands will be much better for control decks.

For low-curve decks, it’s closer. Suppose that you’re interested in casting Dread Wanderer on turn 1 and Abrade on turn 2. This would work with Foreboding Ruins + Mountain, and with Foreboding Ruins + Swamp. It would also work with Dragonskull Summit + Swamp. But it wouldn’t work with Dragonskull Summit + Mountain. Herein lies a potential downside of the checklands compared to the shadowlands. Then again, I expect that for most decks the upside of drawing a more-likely-to-be-untapped Dragonskull Summit in the mid-to-late game carries more weight.

Another thing to point out is that for minor splashes in an otherwise mono-colored deck, the checklands will be superior to the shadowlands. Imagine, for instance, a Ramunap Red deck splashing Scrapheap Scrounger. It is much more reasonable to do this with Dragonskull Summit (which will usually enter untapped when you draw it on turn 4-5) than with Foreboding Ruins (which will frequently enter tapped when you draw it on turn 4-5, potentially resulting in an off-curve Hazoret). On the whole, I’m glad to have access to the checklands in the new Standard.

How Reliably Will the Checklands Enter the Battlefield Untapped?

To get a feel for the numbers, I set up a simulation under the following simplifying assumptions:

  • You have a 60-card deck with 25 lands: 4 checklands, X basic-type lands (either actual basic lands, Evolving Wilds, which are treated like a basic in this setup, or cycling duals of the right type), and 21-X inconsequential lands (such as fastlands, lacking the proper basic type).
  • You mulligan an opening hand if and only if it contains 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands. In case of a mulligan, for simplicity, you don’t use the free scry.
  • You are always on the play.
  • You are interested in one specific turn and would like to know how likely a checkland enters untapped on that turn. Every turn before that turn of interest, you choose your land drop as follows: First, if you can play a basic-type land, you do so. Otherwise, if you can play any inconsequential land, you do so. Otherwise, finally, if you can play a checkland, you do so. So you try to hold your checklands until the turn of interest if possible, but if you have no other land drop, then you play the checkland.
  • On the turn of interest, you look to see if you have a checkland in hand. If you don’t, then you don’t count this game—you are only interested in games where you can play a checkland on that turn. If you do, then you track if it entered tapped or not.
  • Eventually, after 10,000,000 simulations per deck-turn combination, you determine the statistics.

The simple Java code I used is available here. The outcome is as follows.

Click to enlarge.

These numbers should be interpreted as the percentage probability that (under the assumptions listed above) if you have a checkland in hand on a given turn and decide to play it, it will enter untapped. For turn 1, this number will always be 0%.

A natural question is, “how many basic-type lands do I need?” This all depends on what level of consistency you are willing to accept and what other constraints you have on your mana base, but a general recommendation for most non-aggro decks that don’t need a certain color of mana early on is to aim for at least 8 lands of the right type, preferably 10 or more. I expect that this can be reasonably achieved even for 3-color decks, especially given that cycling duals count as well. With 8 basics, any time you’d opt to play a checkland on turn 4 under my assumptions, you’d have an 81.2% probability of it entering untapped. With 10 basics, this number increases to 89.0%. Things get better as you move to later turns, but keep in mind that these should be viewed as minimum requirements and that with 8-10 basics, the checkland won’t be a reliable source of untapped mana on turn 2. You need more basic-type lands for that.

Multi-color aggro decks that want to curve out with early plays in both colors may wish to up the basic-type count so that you get close to 90% for turn 2. This means you need around 16, or let’s say at least 14, which is more than the above figure represents, but I didn’t want to add the data corresponding to those land counts to the figure because numbers at the top were already overlapping each other. Admittedly, if you know you’re at more than 93% consistency, the exact number doesn’t matter all that much anymore, but you can find numbers for higher land counts below.

P(untapped checkland) 12 basics in deck 13 basics in deck 14 basics in deck 15 basics in deck 16 basics in deck 17 basics in deck 18 basics in deck 19 basics in deck
Turn 2 80.3% 83.5% 86.3% 88.8% 91.0% 93.0% 94.7% 96.1%
Turn 3 88.7% 91.3% 93.4% 95.2% 96.6% 97.7% 98.5% 99.2%
Turn 4 94.0% 95.8% 97.1% 98.1% 98.8% 99.3% 99.6% 99.8%
Turn 5 96.8% 97.9% 98.7% 99.2% 99.5% 99.7% 99.8% 99.9%
Turn 6 98.1% 98.8% 99.2% 99.5% 99.7% 99.8% 99.9% 99.9%
Turn 7 98.6% 99.1% 99.4% 99.6% 99.8% 99.9% 99.9% 100.0%

These numbers differ from the ones you might obtain with a hypergeometric distribution. This is because I take into account mulligans based on the number of lands in your opening hand and I effectively condition on the presence of a checkland.

So a mana base of 3 Dragonskull Summit, 4 Ramunap Ruins, 3 Sunscorched Desert, and 14 Mountain might support Scrapheap Scrounger, but you’ll still have a fraction of games where Dragonskull Summit enters tapped. Whether that’s worth it or not will depend on the metagame. But given these numbers, I would be hesitant to choose a 4 Dragonskull Summit, 4 Ramunap Ruins, 4 Sunscorched Desert, and 12 Mountain mana base in a deck with Hazoret. The fraction of games where you miss your curve because of a tapped Dragonskull Summit do add up and could greatly harm an aggro deck that needs to curve out.

Enough math. Let’s just explore how mana bases might look like after the rotation.

Single-Color Decks

The biggest benefit of staying mono-color with no splashes is that you can easily incorporate colorless lands like Sunscorched Desert or Scavenger Grounds into your mana base. For slower mono-color decks that don’t mind a tapland and that want extra fodder for the uncommon Deserts like Ramunap Ruins, the common cycling Deserts (e.g., Desert of the Fervent) might be an option as well.

If you’re not an aggro deck and don’t care about the damage from Sunscorched Desert, then there are various other colorless Deserts you could consider: Cradle of the Accursed, Dunes of the Dead, Endless Sands, Grasping Dunes, or Hostile Desert. But unless your deck or the metagame specifically calls for it, these cards are mediocre.

The only pre-Ixalan colorless land with a truly worthwhile effect is Inventors’ Fair, although that requires an artifact-laden deck. Sequestered Stash deserves an honorable mention for a Metalwork Colossus or God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck.

An interesting new option from Ixalan is Field of Ruin. It’s kind of a Wasteland with a 2-mana activation cost that cannot deprive an opponent of mana or a specific color (assuming they run a basic land of every color) but that can fix your own mana. It might be good in Modern against a deck with no basic lands. In Standard, you could pair it with Aven Mindcensor to hopefully break the symmetry. You could also run it as an untapped mana fixer for some 5-color deck. But I think the most likely application is against cards such as Search for Azcanta or Legion’s Landing that transform into utility lands. That still feels somewhat narrow, and I wouldn’t include Field of Ruin in my main deck for the first week of Standard.

But it’s valuable to have access to an effect like Field of Ruin in Standard, especially since a Rampant Growth with upside feels pretty powerful for blue or white decks. Depending on how the metagame shakes out, I can see 2-color control decks including a Field of Ruin or two as a safeguard.

Allied-Color Decks Have Better Mana Than Enemy-Color Decks

Here’s an example mana base for a generic blue-black control deck with 26 lands.

These decks lost battlelands and shadowlands, retained cycling duals, and gained checklands. Two good dual lands is already enough to ensure a good level of mana consistency, and the Submerged Boneyards make it so that I would be comfortable running both Walk the Plank and Disallow in the same deck. This mana base gives 19 black sources and 17 blue sources. There are 20 lands with the basic type Island or Swamp in the deck, which is more than enough for Drowned Catacomb.

Hoping to cast Opt on turn 1 with this mana base may be too ambitious, as there are only 7 sources of blue mana for turn 1. And if you’d rather play a more aggressive deck with only 24 lands or dislike Submerged Boneyard, then I might cut either Walk the Plank or Disallow. You could retain these spells in a consistent mana base with 24 lands, but you’d have to add extra copies of Submerged Boneyard or Evolving Wilds. Other mana fixing options include Crypt of the Eternals, Painted Bluffs, Unknown Shores, and Survivors’ Encampment. All of them come with a substantial downsides, and I wouldn’t recommend any of them.

Here’s an example mana base for a generic blue-red control deck with 26 lands.

Well, that doesn’t look as appealing. These decks lost creaturelands (Wandering Fumarole) and gained nothing, so you end up with 16 sources of either color and no way to mitigate flooding. You easily go to 15/17 or 14/18, but no matter how you split your basics, supporting double-colored spells in both colors will be tough. I would hesitate to add Disallow or Sweltering Suns to this deck, although it’s still possible if you accept slightly substandard mana consistency or if you simply cut Disallow and move to the 14/18 mana base. Even then, I wouldn’t be thrilled to run a double-colored 2-drop (such as Wily Goblin) with this mana base.

Enemy-colored decks always had fewer dual lands than allied-color pairs, but you used to have such a wealth of dual lands that you never really noticed the difference. Now that you have fewer dual lands overall, the difference is palpable.

This means that in Ixalan Standard, the mana for allied two-color decks is now better than the mana for enemy two-color decks by a large amount. Indeed, allied two-color decks have two good dual lands—enemy two-color decks only have one. This will drive many players toward allied colors. If you want to play an enemy-color pair with double-colored spells in both colors, you better make use of energy (Aether Hub), artifacts (Spire of Industry), or tribal (Unclaimed Territory). Otherwise, your mana is going to suck.

A blue-red control deck in particular would be able to exploit Aether Hub as a mana fixer via Glimmer of Genius and Harnessed Lightning. Although I used the generic blue-red mana base above to highlight the difference between allied-color and enemy-color decks, a realistic mana base for a blue-red control deck in Ixalan Standard would surely run 4 Aether Hub and, consequently, fewer Highland Lake. If you cut Highland Lake, the mana base could probably support a few taplands too. Fetid Pools or Canyon Slough to mitigate flooding come to mind, which alongside Aether Hub would make it easy to splash Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh.

Purely for mana base reasons, I’d prefer blue-black control or blue-white control over blue-red control in the new Standard. But the blue-red variant has one benefit: It’s a much better home for Opt—my blue-red mana base has 14 sources turn-1 sources, compared to 7 turn-1 sources in the blue-black deck. There are two reasons for this. First, the blue-red dual is a fastland: Spirebluff Canal. Second, blue-black contains more duals (which enter tapped on turn 1) and fewer basics.

Shards Have Better Mana in the Late Game Than Wedges, But Can’t Support 1-Drops

Let’s start with wedges. Here’s an example mana base for a generic Mardu midrange deck with 25 lands.

Optimistically counting Evolving Wilds as a full source for each color, this mana base yields 17 white sources (out of which 14 enter untapped on turn 1), 14 black sources, and 14 red sources. These are good numbers for a deck sporting white 1-drop creatures (such as Toolcraft Exemplar) and cheap double-white spells (like Gideon of the Trials) alongside a smattering of single-color black or red cards that don’t have to come down on turn 1.

Due to the 8 fastlands, wedge mana bases are perfect if you have multiple 1-drops in the color that is an enemy to the other 2 colors. In the late game, however, many of your lands will enter the battlefield tapped. This is a big issue because if you run 3 colors, you’re probably interested in exploiting some of the best 4-drops and 5-drops in those colors. With this mana base, you’re going to have a hard time casting them on curve.

Dragonskull Summit in particular has 8 lands (3 Evolving Wilds, 3 Canyon Slough, and 2 basics) that can turn it on, which is not a lot, but you can still think of 3 Dragonskull Summit as approximately 2 Badlands and 1 Cinder Barrens. That’s fine, and I think wedges will often run a mix between cycling duals and checklands because one aids the other.

As a remark, the mana bases I have shown so far are made for generic decks that don’t exploit energy, artifacts, or tribal. If this were a Mardu Vehicles list, then you could replace Evolving Wilds with Spire of Industry to reduce the number of taplands while retaining the same total amount of sources. This would be an improvement overall, even if it would worsen Dragonskull Summit. You should replace 1 or 2 with Canyon Slough at that point.

Now let’s move to a shard. Here’s an example mana base for a generic Esper midrange deck with 25 lands.

That’s a lot of duals! In total, this yields 17 blue, 15 black, and 13 white sources. That’s the same amount of total sources as for the 3-color wedge deck, except that you achieve it without having to resort to Evolving Wilds. The specific amount of colored sources in this Esper mana base could be fine for Disallow, Vraska’s Contempt, and Fumigate, assuming you have several card draw spells to dig for the right color. A few cheap cycling spells such as Cast Out or Censor should do the trick. Without a good card draw suite, the numbers on the colored sources for black and white feel a little shaky to me. But for a realistic control build, they should be good enough.

The checklands have 12 other lands to turn them on, which is fine. You could get more by cutting checklands or Concealed Courtyard for basic lands, but that reduce your number of colored sources. This may be a good option if you don’t run double-black cards, for instance.

With more checklands and fewer fastlands, the shard deck will have more untapped lands in the late game, but it won’t be as adept at deploying 1-drops of a certain color. Shard mana bases are slow, and they won’t support an aggro deck.

As a final note, with 8 cycling duals you have a good incentive to increase the land count by one or two. I decided to keep it at 25 for a proper comparison with the 3-color wedge deck, but you’re probably better off with 26 or 27.

Energy, Artifacts, or Tribal

Over the last half year or so, Mardu Vehicles, 4-Color Energy, Zombies, and Ramunap Red dominated Standard. One reason was that their spells were powerful and synergistic. But another was that these decks had the better mana bases, whether they were single-color or they had access to Aether Hub or Spire of Industry. These nonbasic lands provide untapped sources of every single color, giving these decks a substantial edge over decks that cannot use these lands.

With the release of Ixalan, you gain Unclaimed Territory as a third major multicolor land in Standard. I don’t know yet which tribe out of Dinosaurs, Vampires, Merfolk, or Pirates will prove to be the best or in which colors, so it’s tough to present an example mana base at this point. But the impact of Unclaimed Territory should not be underestimated—the best decks are usually the ones with the best mana.

You might wonder how many cards of the right type you need to support these nonbasic lands. For Aether Hub, I’d like to have at least 8 energy cards, although it could be acceptable with 4. To support Spire of Industry, I’d recommend at least 12 artifacts with a converted mana cost of 2 or less. Finally, for Unclaimed Territory, I’d like it to produce mana for at least half of my spells, so that’s about 18 creatures of the corresponding tribe. Tribal decks also gain access to Pillar of Origins if they so desire. If I put that artifact in my deck, then I’d like to be able to cast at least two-thirds of my spells with it, so that’s roughly 24 tribe members. But as always, the more the better, and you can always adapt these guidelines depending on your deck.

I hope this analysis of checklands and mana base possibilities was helpful for brewers. Overall, the mana in post-rotation Standard got a little worse, but it should still be reasonable enough, especially when you stick to allied-color combinations. Unless you are too greedy of a deck builder, losses due to color screw shouldn’t happen very often in Standard. I’m looking forward to this new format!

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