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Winning at KTK Limited: Manabase Design

Hi there. Today I will talk about how to properly design a solid mana base in a multi-color environment like Khans of Tarkir.

This article is the first in a series dedicated to deck building for the KTK limited format. This is a foundational article targeted towards people who are new the limited format. As you may already know, the mana base in KTK is not as easy to create as it would be with core sets, or sets that are designed to be mono-colored. For the more experienced players, this article will serve as good refresher.

Anyway, I could not start a series for the limited format without taking a look at something so basic and so important as the mana base. Let's get started!



Sometimes we open a pool loaded with bombs, efficient creatures and general good stuff. Basically, everything we need to make our way to victory as long we don't screw up.

Iroas, God of Victory

Iroas, God of Victory

However, with Khans of Tarkir, things are not as they usually are. You may open bombs, efficient creatures, some tricks and/or removals and it still may not be enough.


Wait! What? How could that not enough?!

Well, what I am talking about here is the mana base. There is plenty of mana fixing in the set coming in many flavours: you have fixers at common lands, the always good tri-lands, the banners, and even a rare guy that may help us not only to fix our mana, but also accelerate us in the process. But did you receive any in your pool?


Mana Fixers


Lands are so important in this format that they may have a high pick priority over most commons. Banners can fix mana, but they are slow: I prefer to not to use them unless really needed (for example, to make a splash more consistent).

   Rattleclaw Mystic

Rattleclaw Mystic is a universal fixer and not only tied to green decks. Remember that it can be cast with its morph cost for colorless mana. You can also accelerate one turn by unmorphing with 2 colorless mana and gaining 3 mana (net +1 mana). This may create some interesting interactions with combat tricks and other cards like Mardu Warshrieker to take your opponent by surprise. Surprises are always welcomed.

The Good Mana Base

Usually you build the deck dedicating 40% of the cards exclusively to the mana base. Translating this to numbers means 16 lands in a 40 card deck in limited. I recommend using 17 lands instead to further reduce variance.

To see how important this is, let's take a look at our deck-building options to see how Khans of Tarkir compares to other sets. I have classified these options into three scenarios, all of them from a color-based perspective:


Scenario A: Two Color Decks

While this is normally the best option, it clearly does not fit in with the three-colored theme that Khans of Tarkir is designed for. This means that even if we manage to build a solid two-color deck, we are missing or ignoring some powerful multi-colored spells. Given this, even if a deck is powerful and rock solid, it is not the most optimal build.


  • More consistent mana base
  • Can cast spells on curve
  • Better at avoiding mulligans


  • May be overwhelmed by opponent's powerful spells
  • As it is not aligned with any of the set's main combinations, it barely can take advantage of the set mechanics.
  • Tends to have a lack of synergy or a game plan. Without the optimal use of a clan mechanic or subtheme, the deck simply fails to go beyond an average build.


Scenario B: Three Color Decks

This is what the set incents us to play: A correct build involving three colors is considered the optimal use of available resources because this is what the set is designed for.


  • Able to take advantage of set mechanics or subthemes, hence deploying a game plan is easier.
  • Tends to have synergy between the cards.
  • Availability of powerful tri-colored spells


  • Designing the mana base is kind of tricky
  • The need for 'enter the battlefield tapped' lands may slow the deck and prevents cards from being played on curve.


Scenario C: Four/Five Color Decks

This build may take advantage of even more powerful multi-color spells and also take advantage from multiple clan mechanics. But pushing a deck beyond three colors may downgrade the entire build from an optimal use of resources designed to work with a fine tempo to an overload of powerfull spells that may not be cast in a timely manner.

I am not telling you that it is imposible to build a four or even a five colors deck that can win.  What I am telling you is that sacrificing tempo, speed and consistency may not be worth the advantage of branching into four or five colors.


  • More powerful spells available


  • Even if you managed to build a solid mana base, the entire build will be slow.
  • Tends to cast spells late or never at all (cards stuck in hand).
  • Tends to depend on good luck.

I have avoided explaining the mono-color scenario simply because it is too obvious that it does not work in Khans of Tarkir unless you are lucky enough to open or pick efficient creatures, tricks, removal spells, and some finisher all into a good mana curve at the same color. This is pretty rare in this set.


Let's take a look at what is considered efficient in a 40 cards, 17 lands deck. To simplify our example, we will assume that we are building the mana base for a two-color deck with equal or near-equal requirements for both colors. With this simple example the correct land distribution would be:

          LANDS TOTAL             17         
          Total lands for color A:    9
          Total lands for color B:    8

Two Colors Optimal Manabase

Theoretically this mana base is the most optimal, with only a mono-color mana base being better in terms of availability for colors.

Now that we have the template for an optimal mana base, let's see how can we apply this to a three color schema: Again, we will simplify the example assuming that we have an equal need for all colors in the deck:

Distribution using only basic lands:

      LANDS TOTAL                                 17
      Total lands for main color A:               6
      Total lands for main color B:               6
      Total lands for less important color:    5

Ugly Manabase

Um, this is not a good mana base

Clearly this is far away from being an optimal mana base. At least this show us that you simply can not build a three color mana base with only basic lands. Our most important color has poor availability (just 6 lands) and the third color is simply horrible.

Now let's see the same building requirement including non-basic lands:


    LANDS TOTAL:   17

Manabase - Still Ugly

Still Ugly
       Still Ugly

     LANDS TOTAL:   17

Too Slow

Too Slow

Too Slow


    LANDS TOTAL:   17

Manabase - Almost Optimal

Almost Optimal

Now we are talking about a healthy mana base. Still suboptimal overall but playable

    LANDS TOTAL:   17

Optimal Manabase

Optimal Manabase

This is an optimal mana base


What about tri-lands?

It should be easy to see how valuable these lands are. Grabbing one or two should make it much easier to achieve the optimal stats for your mana base. I did not include them in the examples just to show you how difficult is to reach a solid mana base and to let people see for themselves how valuable the tri-lands are for the mana base. 

Manabase Joker

Tri-Lands are like a Joker for mana bases


Conclusion A: You can not build a healthy mana base without at least four multi-color lands


Mana bases are not sexy. We excitedly dig into the rares, mythics and all sort of goodies that the pool has to offer. We begin to build, we count the creatures, choose our tricks, check the mana curve, and then, when we are almost done, we look at our mana base. See the problem? The lands are the most important part and they are the first things you should look at and get excited for. However, we're simply not hardwired that way. Don't believe me?

What about opening a pool with this:


Or this: 


Or this:




With just one or zero lands that support the colors, these are useless! Many people would ecstatic with these pools without even looking at their lands. People around you will encourage you to play the bombs no matter what.

The result is people will build "powerful" decks with a poor mana bases. They get lucky in some matches crushing their opponents and then lose with a Zurgo Helmsmasher in hand lamenting how "unlucky" they were for getting mana-screwed.  



It does no matter how powerful your pool is if it does not have the lands to support it. It is way better to build something consistent even if you have to ignore cards like Zurgo Helmsasher. In Khans of Tarkir, mana bases should be at the forefront of your deck building.

And that brings our mana base discussion to an end. I hope that you have enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Any suggestion or feedback will be appreciated. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Best Regards!

Aiban -

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