The Hidden Costs to Mana

Commander Mechanic • May 20, 2021

Myriad Landscape by Richard Wright

Hey folks, I’m Chris and I’m YOUR Commander Mechanic. You may recognize me from my YouTube Channel or from guesting on major streams around the community—I’m a deck builder and brewer with a very analytical view of Commander.

Some have said I take a competitive mindset and apply it to casual Commander, but I prefer to think of it as taking an efficient look at deckbuilding. More of the game is played before you ever sit down at a table with other players. There’s a lot to be said about other players’ impact on play experience. Expectation mismatches, lack of communication, and differing opinions on what constitutes ‘fun’ can all play a part in how much you enjoy Commander.

Throughout this series I want to take a look at how you can improve play experience—your own and that of others—before you ever play a game. Avoid not being able to play the game due to deck building issues, avoid imposing poor scenarios on others, and ensure you have concentrated efforts in mind when deck building. But, as always, Commander is about having fun YOUR WAY—don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way to play this game.

The Costs of Lands

The first place I want to start is what’s often the biggest “feel-bad” moment in a game of Magic: mana. Lands in particular are something many people view as an afterthought when putting a deck together. Throwing in every land that makes your colors might look good on paper but there are costs associated with this, and I don’t mean just dollars and cents.

Here’s the manabase from an Ukkima, Stalking Shadow & Cazur, Ruthless Stalker list that was submitted to me for a tune-up:

It’s natural when making a two+ color deck to jam as many lands as possible in it that make several colors. Some players will use budget alternatives like gain lands (Thornwood Falls) over shock lands (Breeding Pool) or pain lands (Yavimaya Coast) because of cost considerations.

Here you’re trading off the dollar cost (in the case of a shock land) or the damage cost (in the case of a pain land) for a hidden cost: an OPPORTUNITY cost.

What is an Opportunity Cost?

That’s an interesting phrase; “Opportunity Cost.” So let’s define it. This is in large part in reference to lands that come into play tapped, but can also apply to lands that don’t produce colored mana, or lands that don’t always produce mana at all (I’m looking at you, Temple of the False God).

The opportunity cost that we have to balance is that playing a land that enters tapped won’t allow us to play on-curve. Meaning we won’t be able to play our 3-mana commander on turn 3 if we know the majority of lands in our deck come into play tapped. We’re more likely to draw a land that has no IMMEDIATE use to us if 20 out of the 35 lands in our deck enter tapped. And that creates a poor play experience that isn’t imposed on you; you did it to yourself during deck building.

How many times have you looked at a hand and said “If I draw one more land this hand is great” then had that land enter the battlefield tapped? How many times have you said “I’m going to win on my next turn!” then drawn a land that enters the battlefield tapped and you’ve had to wait a whole ADDITIONAL turn to try and go off? How many times have you not been able to cast ANY spells at all—essentially not playing the game or interacting with the board—because you’re playing tapped land after tapped land?

That’s the hidden cost to this. If you can’t use your mana when you need to use your mana, you’ve paid the opportunity cost.

This extends to a few other instances as well. For example, a land many players put into every deck they can is Reliquary Tower. Not having to discard to hand size is great for games where you want to be drawing a lot of cards; no doubt. But does it belong in every deck?

I had a player submit to me for a tune-up a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger deck. This commander is one you want to cast on turn two then hopefully again on subsequent turns as well, but has a specific mana cost requiring both red and black mana only. Not only that, this is a deck that’s discard-heavy. It aims to have ALL players have empty hands; why would you include a card that plays into a scenario your deck is the antithesis to? No one’s going to have any cards in hand against this deck, so why worry about full hands?

Why would you choose to open yourself up to the OPPORTUNITY COST of not being able to cast your commander with your own mana production? You’re setting yourself up for making your own game experience worse by not considering the costs. Similarly, commanders with very color-intensive mana costs should watch out for the opportunity cost of not being able to cover their colors. Animar, Soul of Elements, for example, wants to hit Temur (red/green/blue) on turn 2-3 consistently, so why include lands in your deck that can’t produce any of these colors or don’t achieve that goal?

Playing Around “Just In Case”

A statement I hear from a lot of players when they come to me for advice is “I’ve included that card just in case.” That’s a phrase that says to me “I’ve been in a situation before that I don’t want to be in again.” This is players assuming that an external scenario, imposed upon them by another player, is going to happen more often than an internal scenario of their control.

And that’s where the opportunity costs are opened up.

I could write volumes on Temple of the False God here alone, being a land that is only a functioning land when you have five or more lands in play. I’ll save that for another time, but know that it is possibly the single greatest opportunity cost land in the game. It could cost you your land drop for turn, and potentially not create mana for many turns afterwards. And that’s a self-imposed poor play experience.

A card in a similar vein is Myriad Landscape. This is a land played in 21% of ALL decks on EDHRec because “it’s ramp on a land.” Many players see that as a freebie; a free spell, free mana, free real estate—but discount its opportunity costs.

But in the end Myriad Landscape costs you FOUR MANA.

What do I mean? Well, it enters the battlefield tapped—costing you the use of that mana the turn it comes in to play.

It costs 2 mana to activate, costing you 3 mana the turn you activate it (Myriad Landscape + 2 mana). And since the lands it fetches enter tapped, you aren’t netting any mana until the turn AFTER it’s activated! You’ve spent 3 turns and 4 mana to get ONE additional land. Tell me if that’s worth running over a basic land, or an extra mana rock in the 99?

Those are the costs that many players don’t factor in when building decks.

Paying for your Lands

So it all boils down to the question “What can I do instead?”

There are multiple options that don’t all have to break the bank. There are affordable lands that make multiple colors and don’t cost an arm and a leg. A lot of people think there’s no middle ground between “Tropical Island” and “Evolving Wilds.”

Here are a pair of manabases that I’d consider low opportunity cost at two different budgets:

Here’s a manabase for a moderately costed but color-intensive build of Lathril, Blade of the Elves EDH:

And here’s the manabase for a $100 budget Kathril, Aspect Warper EDH deck:

Both lists, knowing their color requirements and mana costs, do two things in particular.

One, ensure versatile lands that allow them to create multiple colors of mana. Two, many heavy use of basic lands. Many players will jam as manynon-basic lands as possible into every list and shy away from basics. That’s opening yourself up to OPPORTUNITY COSTS. You don’t need to pay through the nose for a manabase in order to be able to play your decks consistently. Don’t neglect your basics or you might find that the costs of your lands are too high to pay!

Until next time folks, where we’ll be taking a look at using your newly untapped lands to play your spells on curve (and what that means), good luck & have fun!

"I'm Chris and I'm YOUR Commander Mechanic!" A die-hard Commander player, Chris is a brewer, deck builder, and player experience advocate. Check out YouTube for Tune-Ups, Twitter for hot takes, and catch him on streams all over the community!