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How To Build The Best Five-Color Manabase At Any Budget | Commander Quickie


For those looking to build a five-color (5C) Commander deck on a budget, the hardest part of the brewing process is often the manabase. A popular misconception is that all 10 fetchlands and 10 shocklands are the bare minimum requirements to start building a 5C manabase and many people get discouraged at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars to just get started at building a 5C deck. In this article we'll demystify the process and show you how to build a great 5C manabase at any price range. We're going to cover the best lands, ramp, and other mana-fixing cards at different price points, and how to add them together to form a powerful, consistent manabase at your desired budget.

Speed, Consistency & Budget

Before we hop into the card options, I want to highlight the two main goals of our manabase -- consistency and speed -- and how your budget affects this.

Consistency refers to how consistently you have the correct mana to cast your spells. 5C decks have the most diverse mana requirements to cast their spells, requiring all five colors of mana, so a manabase that can consistently generate all required color combinations is necessary to avoid situations where you don't have the correct colors to cast the spells in your hand. Lands, ramp, and other mana-fixing cards that can tap for multiple colors are the best ways to increase consistency.

Speed refers to how quickly you can generate the amount of mana to cast your spells. The faster you can cast your spells, the faster you can progress your deck's goals and move into a winning position. Lands that enter untapped so you can tap them for mana immediately, efficient ramp, and other mana generating spells are the best ways to increase speed.

The best cards mana-producing cards for a 5C deck, therefore, are ones that score high in both speed and consistency. One of the best examples of this is Commander Tower: it taps for any color of mana and enters the battlefield untapped so it can produce mana immediately. Despite being one of the most desirable cards in the format, constant reprints has kept its price a budget-friendly $1 (at least at the time of writing this).

But alas, most of the best 5C mana options that score high on both speed and consistency are not as budget-friendly as Command Tower: the next two best lands, City of Brass and Mana Confluence, cost significantly more money to buy. And so we come to the last crucial element of our manabase, budget: the lower your budget, the more you'll have to sacrifice speed and/or consistency in your manabase.

At the lowest budget range, the cheapest consistent lands for a 5C deck -- trilands (Jungle Shrine) and vivids (Vivid Meadow) -- all come into play tapped, so they're slow. And the cheapest speedy lands for a 5C deck -- basic lands (Forest) -- tap for only one type of mana, so they're inconsistent. The trick is then to strike a balance between speed and consistency based on the budget you're working with, and that's what I aim to show you with this article.

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Frank Karsten On Consistency

Frank Karsten wrote a fantastic guide showing with math how many colored mana sources you need to consistently cast your spells. I'm not going to repeat the article here because I am not a math wizard like Frank is and can't contribute anything new to his results, but I will stress that you should definitely read his article! It will help you get exact answers to manabase questions rooted in sweet juicy math!

Here are some tidbits that are worth considering when building your 5C manabase based on Frank's numbers:

  • To consistently cast a 2cmc Green ramp spell like Farseek on turn 2 your deck needs at least 21 Green mana sources
  • Be careful about adding cards with very strict color requirements. Casting something like Cryptic Command on turn 4 requires 33 Blue mana sources, which can be done depending on the deck but is very difficult in general.

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Lands

$0.1-1

At the lowest budgets, the two best lands we've got are honestly really great: Command Tower is the best land overall, tapping for all 5 colors, enters untapped, no strings attached. Exotic Orchard's mana-fixing is entirely reliant on your opponents so it has consistency issues, but will often tap for three or more colors and enters untapped. Both these cards have seen heavy reprints so you can currently get them for around $1. Murmuring Bosk is an underrated gem: while it comes into play tapped in non-Treefolk decks and only produces 3 colors, it's a Forest, so it can be fetched by cards that find Forests (Nature's Lore).

The next best low-budget lands are the 10 triland cycle (Opulent Palace): each of these lands tap for 3 colors and enter the battlefield tapped. They are all great in terms of consistency but they are slow.

After the trilands come the 5 vivid cycle (Vivid Creek), which tap for 1 color but you can remove 1 of their 2 charge counters to add mana of any color. While they are only temporary fixing, those 2 charge counters are often enough to tide you over until you find play more permanent sources of mana fixing in the game. High consistency, but coming into play tapped means they're slow.

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$2-4

While Grand Coliseum does enter the battlefield tapped, it can tap for any color for a negligible cost, or tap for colorless if you don't need fixing. 

There are a bunch of lands in this dollar range that enter untapped, so they have high speed, but only tap for two colors, so they're not the most consistent but still helpful to fill gaps in your manabase. These are the 10 painlands (Yavimaya Coast), 10 checklands (Sulfur Falls), and 5 battle lands (Cinder Glade), the latter working best in decks with higher basic land counts and running cards that care about basic land types (Farseek).

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$5-10

Even if you never scry a single time with it, Path of Ancestry is at worst a Command Tower that enters tapped, giving you access to all colors at the cost of speed. It still beats out most card options at this price range.

The new 5 tricycle lands (Indatha Triome) are huge upgrades to the cheaper trilands. Like the trilands, these lands enter tapped and tap for three colors, but they come with two new perks. The first is being able to cycle them when you don't need them, which is a great way to avoid mana flood. The second and really big one is each has three basic land types, which lets us fetch them with cards that care about land types. For example, by casting Skyshroud Claim you can fetch Indatha Triome and Ketria Triome, instantly giving you access to all five colors.

Within this price point is when we start getting access to some of the 10 shocklands (Godless Shrine). While not great mana-fixing on their own since they only produce two colors of mana, each shockland has two basic land types which make them easy to fetch. Their true strength comes when paired with fetchlands: when running 10 shocks and 10 fetches in your deck, for example, a Wooded Foothills can be used to fetch 7 different shocklands, giving them access to any color you need without giving up any speed in the process. This is the ideal combination of speed and consistency but it comes with a high price tag to purchase all 20 cards.

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$11-25

This price range lets you get the remaining best lands that enter the battlefield untapped and tap for any color mana: City of Brass and Mana Confluence are the best here, and after those are Forbidden Orchard (negligible drawback usually) and Reflecting Pool (sometimes inconsistent because it depends on your other lands).

After these, the rest of the shocklands are in this price range (Steam Vents) and some of the fetchlands (Windswept Heath).

There's also the best basic fetchland, Prismatic Vista, and the second-best, Fabled Passage, both solid inclusions.

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$26-100

At this price point you can finally afford all the fetchlands, yay! The ultimate goal here is to run 10 fetches and 10 shocks for a high degree of speed and consistency.

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ABU Duals ($101+)

If you can afford them, the original 10 dual lands (Tropical Island) are part of the ultimate 5C manabase. Just like shocklands, they actually aren't great mana-fixing on their own, but when paired with fetchlands they can get any color combination you need. Go-to no thinking perfect 5C lands is 10 ABU duals, 10 shocks, and 10 fetches, then filling the remaining slots with $100 dollar bills with "land" written on them.

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Tribal Mentions

There are many tribal lands out there that tap for any colored mana as long as it's casting spells of the named tribe: Ally Encampment, Corrupted Crossroads, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon are examples of these. They are fantastic inclusion in their specific deck, but because they are so narrow I left them out of my general lists.

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Lands I Don't Usually Recommend

Often times when talking about budget 5C land options, these lands pop into the conversation. These cards I'm more hesitant to recommend and I'll tell you why:

  • Cascading Cataracts and Crystal Quarry are both mana-fixing lands, but allowing you to turn 6 mana into 5 colored mana. This is a nice ability to have, but unfortunately they don't tap for any colors by themselves, making them especially awkward in the first turns of the game. Hurting your early game consistency for mid/lategame fixing doesn't seem worth it to me.
  • Mirrodin's Core and Cave of Temptation have similar issues: they can mana fix, but they default tap for colorless. I don't like the tradeoff here.

None of these cards are unplayable, and there may be specific decks where they're actually great in, but by default I tend to leave them out of my 5C manabases.

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Here's an info dump of land options we'll be using for the sample lists:

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Ramp

Ramp has a lot more factors to consider when choosing the right ones for your deck. Each deck's ramp package will have differences not only due to budget but also what other cards you're running in the deck change the value of certain ramp options.

Just like when choosing lands, when it comes to ramp, mana-fixing options are very important in 5C decks: Arcane Signet is tremendously more useful than a Mind Stone so we have the correct mana to cast the spells in our hand.

Another big factor when choosing ramp is cmc (converted mana cost). I highly value lower cmc ramp aka speedy ramp over higher cmc ramp. Low cmc ramp lets us be more mana-efficient with the first turns of the game and let us cast our important engines faster. This is why I consider a 2cmc ramp card like Arcane Signet way more desirable than Gilded Lotus in most decks, though like everything in Magic there are exceptions. Some higher cmc ramp, like Smothering Tithe, generate so much value that it becomes a high priority include despite the higher cmc.

But there's even more factors to consider! Curse of Opulence is a fantastic inclusion in creature-heavy decks but is worse in creature-light decks. Farseek and Nature's Lore get dramatically stronger if your deck is running dual lands like Stomping Ground. If you're a creature-heavy deck you can also take advantage of cards like Beastcaller Savant and Somberwald Sage. So yeah, lots of factors!

 

$0.1-1

Thankfully even at the cheapest price point, having access to Green gives us plenty of fantastic mana-fixing ramp options. Rampant Growth, Farseek, Search for Tomorrow, Sakura-Tribe Elder all can be played turns 1 and 2 and safely ramp you with lands. There are also two budget Green auras that are severely underrated: Fertile Ground and Trace of Abundance, which both ramp and mana-fix perfectly. Trace even shores up the drawback of targeted land destruction by giving the enchanted land shroud!

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$2-4

By itself Nature's Lore isn't great in a 5C deck, but it becomes fantastic when paired with Forest dual lands like Temple Garden to become mana-fixing ramp. Curse of Opulence is great in a creature-heavy deck. We can also pick up Fellwar Stone, an efficient mana-fixing rock that is reliant on your opponents but usually taps for all five colors of mana.

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$5-10

At this price range you can find Arcane Signet, a staple ramp option for pretty much any 5C deck. Birds of Paradise, while fragile, is a 1cmc ramp that taps for any color. Cryptolith Rite is fantastic in Token decks where you can turn your small tokens into massive ramp. 

Also special mention goes to Chromatic Lantern. The value of this ramp card is largely dependant on how inherently good mana-fixing your lands are: if your lands don't mana-fix much, such as basic lands, then the Lantern is very good. But if you've filled your lands with expensive options that tap for any color already, then the Lantern becomes far less valuable.

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$11+

There aren't too many super pricey ramp options that I'd recommend. Smothering Tithe is fantastic and only gets better in decks that can abuse artifact tokens. Similarly, Dockside Extortionist can also generate a ton of mana and only gets better if you can re-use its ETB trigger with blink effects such as generating infinite mana with Deadeye Navigator. Lotus Cobra is great in decks full of fetchlands.

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And here's the ramp info dump:

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Land Fetchers

Lands and ramp are our primary ways to mana-fix in a 5C deck, but there's another option that can be very useful when building on a low budget: land fetchers

Land fetchers are cards that let you search your library for a land (usually a basic) and put it into your hand. While slow since they cost mana, they replace themselves and can increase the consistency of your deck, especially decks that run lots of basic lands. Some classic examples are Wanderer's Twig, Traveler's Amulet, and Renegade Map, all cheap ways to find the color that you need in the early turns.

But my favorite land fetchers are the landcycling cards, which can fetch the land you need for the normal rate of 2 mana but alternatively can be cast as a spell. My favorite of these are the ones that are actually useful spells that you'd want to cast later on the game, like the good removal Sylvan Reclamation, flexible looting with Ancient Excavation, and the surprise finisher Treacherous Terrain.

The cards, while a bit slow, can help ensure that your deck is super consistent.

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Sample Budget Manabases

Now lets put all our options together to build some sample manabases at different price points.

As a general rule, I advocate that 50 cards in your deck should be dedicated to your manabase, usually splitting them between 37 lands and 13 ramp. This is always my suggested starting point and then tweaked to better suit the individual deck.

Disclaimer: these are generic sample manabases. Specific decks will want to make adjustments based on the rest of the deck -- an Artifact deck will want more artifact ramp, a Sliver deck will want cards like Manaweft Sliver and Sliver Hive, etc.

 

$15

The first sample manabase starts at $15. We're leaning Green-heavy to take advantage of cheap Green ramp options. Even with 20 basic lands, this manabase should be able to consistently cast the spells of a typical 5C deck without sacrificing too much speed.

According to Frank Karsten's manabase article, this manabase meets the 21 green mana source requirement to cast a turn 2 Farseek, so I think we're in a good spot.

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$25

At this price point I've started introducing the first Forest duals: Canopy Vista, Cinder Glade, and the pseudo-dual Murmuring Bosk. These pair wonderfully with our Forest ramp cards, Krosan Verge, Wood Elves, and Farseek, and we'll continue building upon this concept.

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$50

At $50 we're starting to morph the manabase into its ideal form. The most powerful mana rocks are here, along with the last remaining two dual land fetchers Nature's Lore and Skyshroud Claim, which will only get better as we add more Forest duals. I've also added Curse of Opulence, which does require you running creatures for maximum value but is still fantastic.

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$100

We're upgrading our trilands into triomes, which function similarly by themselves but pair way better with dual fetches like Nature's Lore and Wood Elves. We've also added our first shockland, Temple Garden, as another Forest dual we can fetch.

At this price point we've also added the best 5C mana rocks, Fellwar Stone, Arcane Signet, and even though it taps for colorless. Sol Ring is too good to leave out. 

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Almost Fully Blinged ($100 Card Limit)

Here's a sample blinged manabase that only excludes cards over $100. This sample runs the full 10 fetchland + 10 shockland combo for maximum speed and consistency.

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That's All, Folks!

I know the question of 5C manabase construction comes up a lot so I hope this guide will prove helpful for those looking to construct their own 5C decks. Thanks for reading!


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