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Modern Mana on a Budget

Rivals of Ixalan spoilers start in just a couple of days, which will shift the focus of the community back to Standard as we get sweet new cards to (hopefully) shake up the metagame. However, this shift will be temporary because Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan features the Modern format. A few weeks ago, we talked about identifying opponents' decks based on the lands they play on the first turn of the game, and one request that came from that article was to talk about how to build a Modern mana base when you are first getting into the format. A few people mentioned that the primary reason they haven't picked up Modern at all is because of the cost of the lands you need to build tier decks. Basically, the question for today is: if you are thinking about getting into Modern for the first time or have dabbled in the format without going too deep and don't have a budget for a $500 mana base, what should you do? 

Personally, I love Modern, and my hope is that with the community's eyes being on the format because of the Pro Tour, more people will take the plunge and start playing Modern. So today, we're going to take some time to talk about what you can do if you are looking to get into Modern, but don't have the typical fetch-and-shock mana base and don't have the money to buy a bunch of expensive nonbasic lands. 

Fetch Lands and Shock Lands

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Fetch lands are, without a doubt, the gold standard of Modern. The problem is that buying a full set of fetch lands currently costs $1,136, which is a massive chunk of money for most Magic players, which means simply buying all the fetches probably isn't practical for most players. Plus, fetch lands are only as powerful as the lands they are fetching out, which means for your fetch land investment to be worthwhile, you'll also have to buy shock lands.

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While not nearly as expensive as fetch lands, shock lands still aren't cheap, with the average price of a single shock land currently $11.10. The good news is that most decks don't require four copies of an individual shock land, since shocks are mostly in the deck to be fetched out. Most decks play somewhere between two and three of its primary shock land, although there are instances where decks play as few as one (some Death's Shadow builds) or as many as four (some two-color control decks). If your goal is to be able to build any deck in Modern, you'll probably need to have 40 fetch lands and 40 shock lands, which will set you back a total of $1,580 at current retail prices. If you shop around or do some careful trading, you might be able to lower this number a bit, but no matter how you look at it, getting the optimal Modern mana base is going to be expensive—and probably too expensive for many new-to-Modern players. 

Of course, this number is a bit deceptive because most people buying into Modern are looking to build a single deck to start and then potentially grow their collection over time to be able to build more decks, which means you don't nave to spend anywhere near $1,500 to start playing Modern. However, if one of your long-term goals is to have a great Modern collection, 40 fetches and 40 shocks should be your number-one goal (after building a deck or two that you can play while you're building the rest of your collection). Fetches and shocks are the most important cards in the Modern format, and while we'll talk about a bunch of budget ideas as we move forward, it's worth mentioning that there really aren't any replacements for a fetch-land and shock-land mana base. While there are tricks that can helps us get by without them, no matter how you break it down, running other lands is giving up some points off of your win percentage. While this number isn't huge in most cases and likely doesn't matter for playing at the FNM level, if your goal is to win Grands Prix and SCG Opens, it's going to be challenging to avoid splurging on fetch lands for too long. 

Before moving on to other lands, let's talk about a couple of tricks to help make building your fetch-land mana base in a more budget-friendly way. First, if you're building into Modern for the first time, start by only getting the fetch lands and shock lands you need to complete your deck and then worry about picking up off-color lands later to fill out your collection and allow for more flexibility. One of the big upsides of this plan is that Wizards will reprint the fetch lands eventually, and while prices will probably increase again after the reprinting, there will be a sale on fetch lands that will give new players a window to buy into the format. This could be as soon as Masters 25 coming in March (announcing it at the Modern Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan could be a good PR move by Wizards), or it could be another year or two, but the reprint will happen before too long. 

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Second, focus on the Khans of Tarkir fetch lands to start. Right now, the average price of a Khans of Tarkir fetch land is $16.20, which I realize isn't cheap in a vacuum but is significantly cheaper than the $40.80 average of the Zendikar fetch lands. Thanks to the shock lands, playing less-than-optimal fetch lands (for example, Flooded Strand in your WB Tokens deck instead of Marsh Flats) is a good semi-budget strategy and a great way to start playing powerful Modern decks sooner. While playing Flooded Strand over Marsh Flats will cost you some number of percentage points (mostly against random Blood Moon decks where you can't fetch up a basic Swamp with Flooded Strand), playing less-than-optimal fetches is usually still more competitive than playing other lesser lands and trying to build a non-fetch mana base. Plus, going this semi-budget route starts you down the path to having 40 fetch lands and 40 shock lands, which is still the long-term goal for any serious Modern player. 

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Third, limit the number of shock lands that you buy. In reality, you can play a huge percentage of Modern decks with only two of each shock land, so spending more than $10 each for copies three and four of any individual shock is often overkill. Things will be different if there's a deck you really want to play that, for some reason, requires having four of a specific shock, but generally speaking, playing two of each shock is fine. Here's an example of the type of mana base I'm talking about. While not budget in the traditional sense (of spending as little as possible), this is basically a budget-competitive mana base with the upside of getting some fetch lands and shock lands into your collection.

Now, I realize that $185 isn't what most people consider "budget," but there is a huge benefit to spending a bit more on this type of mana base. First, while the fetch lands aren't optimal, this is a fairly functional mana base and should work almost as well as a fully optimal mana base in most matchups. Second, owning these lands gives us a surprising amount of flexibility without spending too much more money. 

For example, by simply changing three shock lands and some of the currently-in-Standard buddy lands, we can shift our entire mana base from Esper to Bant for about $40. 

Or, throw in about $45 of Godless Shrine and Shambling Vent and suddenly you have a pretty reasonable mana base for a deck like WB Tokens. We could keep changing around the buddy lands and shock lands to make different mana bases, but hopefully the point is clear: the upside of investing in even just a small number of fetch lands and shock lands is huge because it allows you to play solid (but not truly optimal) mana bases for a bunch of different color combinations by only changing a handful of pieces. 

This is one of the biggest reasons to consider spending a bit more to get some fetch lands when you are just building into Modern. While you could build a lesser mana base with cheaper lands and zero fetches, those cheaper lands will only by good for one color combination of decks (you are not going to play a Temple Garden in an Esper deck like you can a Windswept Heath), so unless you stick to just one deck or color combination, you actually get some amount of savings by spending more up front on fetch lands thanks to the flexibility they offer and the numbers of decks you can build using a single fetch land.

Not-as-Cheap-as-They-Look Lands

Oddly, after the fetch lands and shock lands, there is a pretty large group of lands that look like budget options but aren't actually all that budget friendly when you step back and look at the big picture.

Fast Lands

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The fast lands are strange. At a glance, they seem like they could be great for budget decks, but taken as a group, they aren't actually very effective as budget options, with the average price of a fast land coming in at over $9 a copy. Given the choice between spending $9 on a fast land and $11 on a shock land, the right long-term choice is to buy the shock land 100% of the time. While some Modern decks do want fast lands, they are significantly less important to the format in general than shocks, which means the $2 a copy savings simply aren't enough to make the fast lands viable budget options. 

This being said, some of the Standard-legal fast lands are appealing budget options, with Concealed Courtyard and Blooming Marsh being under $6 and Inspiring Vantage being less than $4, so these individual fast lands are worth keeping in mind as budget-friendly options if you are building a deck in their colors. Plus, all of these lands do have a home in an optimal Modern collection, and all show up in tier decks, so it's not that they are money sinks over the long run, just that they are less important than shock lands. It's also worth watching the fast lands as they near rotation. If they end up falling into the $2–3 range after they no longer have Standard demand, they will be some of the better budget options available in the Modern format.

Other Fetchable Lands

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While the Battle for Zendikar dual lands are super cheap (and the cycling duals will be once they rotate, although they are somewhat expensive right now), which makes them look like a good budget substitute for shock lands, there is one major problem: shock lands are pretty worthless without fetch lands. This is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but as far as building decks on a budget, Glacial Fortress is a better substitute for Hallowed Fountain than either Irrigated Farmland or Prairie Stream

When it comes to building budget Modern decks, the primary goal is to get as many lands that enter the battlefield untapped as possible, and without the synergy with fetch lands, Glacial Fortress and the rest of the buddy lands enter the battlefield untapped more often than Irrigated Farmland or Prairie Stream (and the rest of their cycles). If somehow you are in the unique situation where you have fetch lands (let's say you started playing Magic during Khans of Tarkir) but don't have shock lands, then Prairie Stream is a fine substitute, especially for two-color decks with a reasonable number of basics, but outside of this fringe situation, there really isn't a reason to play dual lands with basic land types over the buddy lands. 

Building Budget Mana Bases for Modern

A quick reminder before we run through what I think are the best budget mana bases for various decks in Modern. First, if your goal is to build a Modern collection, your long-term goal is to acquire fetch lands and shock lands. While you don't need these lands right away and the budget mana bases we'll talk about next are great substitutes over the short term, if you're planning on playing Modern at the Grand Prix / SCG Open level, there really aren't any substitutes for fetch lands and shock lands. With that out of the way, let's build some budget-friendly mana bases!


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Mono-colored mana bases are by far the easiest and cheapest to build because all you need to do is play a bunch of basic lands, which makes the mana of the deck essentially free. The good news here is that Modern has a massive card pool, so you can do a lot of different things with only mono-color decks, although staying mono-colored in Modern comes with some big downsides. Each color in Modern (outside of blue, which gets counters) has at least one major flaw. Black decks, for example, struggle with artifacts and enchantments, red decks struggle with big creatures, white and green decks struggle with spell-based combo (especially on a budget; white has good sideboard options if budget isn't a concern), and even blue has a tendency to get run over by aggro. Because of this, mono-colored decks are fairly rare on the tournament scene, which mean sooner or later, you'll probably want to branch out into two- and three-color builds.

Two-Color Ally

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For two-color ally decks in Modern, the foundations of the mana base are buddy lands and the Battle for Zendikar duals, along with plenty of basic lands. Typically, when I build ally two-color budget decks in Modern, my goal is to have at least 12 dual lands and then fill out the rest of the deck with basics and maybe a couple of extra duals, if the budget permits. Of course, this means we are usually left scraping around for an additional dual land after adding the buddy lands and Battle for Zendikar duals to the deck. Which dual is best mostly depends on the color combination.

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For UW decks ,Nimbus Maze is my current favorite third dual thanks to its newfound cheapness (at $2 a copy) due to its reprinting in Iconic Masters. For other colors, I often default to the Shadows over Innistrad cycle, which isn't exciting, but in a deck with between 12 and 14 duals and 10 to 12 basic lands, they are usually functional enough. The total cost for a 12-dual budget mana base is typically somewhere between $20 and $30, depending on the exact lands in the deck. Assuming we are working with a budget of around $100 like on Budget Magic, this means lands are eating up somewhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of the total budget for our deck, which isn't all that unreasonable.

Enemy Two-Color

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Enemy two-color decks are significantly harder to build on a budget in Modern, since we only have one auto-include land cycle in the pain lands from various core sets. Otherwise, the options for enemy two-colored decks are a mixture of lands that are a bit more expensive than we'd like or lands that enter the battlefield tapped. The goal is the same as with ally two-color decks: to get a total of at least 12 dual lands and then to fill out the rest of the mana base with basics, but we have some hard choices with enemy decks.

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Most often, the second enemy dual land cycle to make the deck is the fast lands, although as we talked about a little while ago, they are a flawed cycle for budget building because their price is high based on Standard demand. Thankfully, this should change at rotation, and then the fast lands will rank alongside the pain lands as a second auto-include cycle for enemy-colored decks, which will make building enemy colors on a budget much easier.

Another option is the enemy-colored budget lands from Innistrad, but right now, all of these lands are between $5 and $8 a copy, which means it's hard to run both Innistrad duals and the fast lands in the same budget deck (having eight lands at $5 each is $40, plus another $5–10 for pain lands, and the mana base climbs to near $50—a full 50% of a $100 budget deck—which makes it difficult to play many good nonland cards). Thankfully, this could be changing soon. In theory, Wizards could reprint the enemy buddy lands in Rivals of Ixalan, after printing the ally versions in Ixalan proper. 

The point of all this is that building enemy-colored budget mana bases is really difficult right now because besides the pain lands, we don't really have a good second cycle of dual lands that enter the battlefield untapped and are cheap. However, this is very likely to change over the next year, with fast lands rotating and the potential for enemy buddy land reprints on the horizon, at which point the conversation on building enemy budget mana bases will be much different and the process will be both cheaper and easier.

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For now, until the fast lands rotate or the enemy buddy lands are reprinted, the third dual land in an enemy two-colored deck is typically either a Battle for Zendikar creatureland or a Theros scry land. The problem with both of these lands is that they always enter the battlefield tapped, which means building curve-out aggro decks is especially problematic in enemy colors. Slower midrange and control decks can get by with a playset of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, especially with an upside like scrying or becoming a creature, but aggro decks really struggle with playing many (or even any) tapped lands. As such, until prices drop on some of the enemy duals in Modern, if you're building aggro on a budget, you're better off staying with the ally colors and leaving the enemy colors for midrange and control builds.

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One other quirk of building an enemy color deck on a budget is that Izzet decks are basically off-limits. UR dual lands are almost always the most expensive of their cycles, which means even lands like Spirebluff Canal and Sulfur Falls are simply too expensive to play in budget decks. As a result, you have two choices if you're trying to build a budget Izzet deck. First, you can play a really bad mana base (which we do on occasion) featuring Modern staples like Highland Lake and Swiftwater Cliffs. Second, you just forget about playing UR decks on a budget in Modern (which I also do quite often by building what I think is a sweet UR deck only to realize I can't make the mana work on a budget). 

Three-Color Decks

Generally speaking, I don't build three-color decks on a budget. In fact, I just looked back over all of the Modern Budget Magic decks we've ever played, and a total of five of the 66 are three colors (7.5%). The problem with trying to build three-color decks on a budget is that one of two things happen. Either you spend a huge portion of your budget on land to make the mana workable and you don't have any money left over in the budget to play good, fun nonland cards, or you skimp on the lands and end up losing because you are playing a tapped land every turn while your opponent is playing Goblin Guide on Turn 1, playing Death's Shadows on Turn 2, and storming off on Turn 3. 

Of the five three-color decks we've played in Modern for Budget Magic, two of them probably shouldn't even count because one was GB End, which was really a GB deck (the only white card was Lingering Souls, which was mostly played to mill and flashback), and the other was Restore Balance, which played a ton of borderposts to make the mana work. The only three-color mana base from Budget Magic that seemed somewhat functional was from Jeskai Flying Men.

While this mana base can give you an idea of where to head if you're looking to try a three-color budget build in Modern, from what I remember about the deck, the mana was certainly the weak link. If you look at the list, we need blue mana on Turn 1, blue-white mana on Turn 2, and blue-white-red mana on Turn 3. While this can happen with our mana base, there will also be a lot of games where we are missing our colors and lose simply because our mana is so rough around the edges. And this doesn't even include the games that we lose because we are playing a massive eight pain lands, which ends up doing a lot of damage if the game happens to go long. Another example of an attempt at three-color budget mana comes way back from near the beginning of Budget Magic, with Heartless Summoning.

Looking back at this deck now, with two years more experience in building budget decks, I can honestly say the mana base is horrible. We have a massive nine lands that always enter the battlefield tapped, which doesn't even include the times our buddy lands will come into play tapped because we don't have the right basic land on the battlefield. And our payoff for this horrible mana? Three copies of Jarad's Orders in the main deck and some Nature's Claims in the sideboard. 

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One thing I've learned by building budget decks every week for the past few years is that in these situations, the correct thing to do is simply to cut the third color. While Jarad's Orders is a great way to set up the Heartless Summoning combo, when you consider the cost of the mana base, it's likely the deck would be better, more powerful, and more consistent if we left out the green splash and just played a straight blue-black Heartless Summoning deck. 

This choice between playing a slightly less powerful two-color deck or a clunky but slightly more powerful three-color deck comes up often in building budget decks, and while I dabbled with the three-color idea back in the early days of Budget Magic, I usually don't even try at this point. If a deck requires three or more colors, I just assume that it won't work on a budget unless there are special circumstances (like mana dorks or other color fixing), so when you stumble across a three-color deck that you really want to build on a budget, my advice would be to spend your energy figuring out how to make the deck work as a two-color deck rather than bashing your head into the wall trying to make the horrible mana work, even if it means dropping some powerful cards.


  • When it comes to playing Modern, there really isn't a substitute for the fetch and shock mana base. Nothing comes close to the power, consistency, and flexibility this combination offers.
  • As such, if you're serious about building a Modern collection, your long-term goal should be to eventually have 40 fetch lands and at least two of each shock land (and all 40 would be ideal) in your collection. While you don't need to spend $1,500 to do this right away, build your collection with this goal in mind. Once you have the mana base, it's pretty easy to build all kinds of Modern decks for a relatively low cost.
  • Since the goal is eventually having 40 fetch lands and at least 20 shocks, default toward picking up these lands over other budget options, if you have the chance. 
  • Start with the Khans fetch lands and whatever shock lands you need to build your first deck, and build up from there. Wait to pick up the Zendikar fetch lands until when they are eventually reprinted, which should happen in the next year or two and could happen as soon as March in Masters 25.
  • Some of the seemingly budget-friendly cycles like various fetchable (non-shock) duals and the fast lands aren't really as cheap as they seem, because they don't offer the flexibility of fetch lands and shock lands. If you are choosing between spending $9 on a fast land and $11 on a shock land, the right choice is the shock land 100% of the time. 
  • Building mono-colored budget lists is easy because all you need are basic lands.
  • Building ally two-color decks is also pretty easy because every color combination has at least two decent, inexpensive dual lands.
  • Building enemy two-color decks is difficult but doable, since only the pain lands are a good budget option. The good news is this should change when the fast lands from Kaladesh rotate next fall or when the Innistrad buddy lands are reprinted.
  • Building three-color decks on a budget is usually not a good idea. While there are exceptions, in my experience, you're better off figuring out how to make the deck work as a two-color deck with decent mana than trying to figure out how to make a three-color deck work with horrible mana.


Anyway, that's all for today. Hopefully, this discussion of budget Modern mana was helpful! With the combination of multiple Masters sets and a Modern Pro Tour on the horizon, it's a great time to start playing Modern. Don't let the fact that you can't afford the right fetches or a full playset of shock lands keep you from playing the format. It's certainly possible to compete without having an expensive mana base, although if you find that you really enjoy the format, optimizing your decks with fetches and shock lands should be at the top of your to-do list.

As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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