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Whenever I start brewing a new deck, the first thing I like to do is come up with a theme, a combo, or some other binder to tie the spells together. Whether it’s a Tribal deck like Zombies, a theme deck like Metalcraft, or a combo deck like… huh, it’s been a while since I made a combo deck. In any case, that’s the first thing I do. Then I look to round out my core spells with utility spells that will help the deck thrive in a non-solitaire environment: Kill spells in Black, Counters in Blue, and so on. Finally, once I’ve got 36 or so spells lined up for one last check, I start to consider my mana base. The fact that building my mana base is an afterthought in most cases is problematic, and I decided to start doing some extra reading on the subject to see if I could shore up this aspect of my deck building skills. Sure enough, the internet is absolutely awash with articles about Land in Magic, but the chaff can be hard to separate from the wheat, so I thought I would try to do some of that work for you, and present to you what I found. I may revisit this in more detail another time but, for the moment, I shall simply present an overview of my recent research.

Rule Number One: Feasibility
First things first, as per tip number one here, “Make sure your deck is at least reasonable for the format.” In an Innistrad Block Constructed Deck, for example, you’ll only have access to the enemy-colored dual lands from Innistrad, such as Woodland Cemetery which can make it particularly tricky to run something like Naya (Red White Green) since the only dual land you’ll have available is Clifftop Retreat. Without much mana-fixing (spells like Birds of Paradise and Rampant Growth which can help provide mana of whatever color you might need at the moment) you may find it very difficult to run one of the more traditional three-color combinations without running into major mana issues. That’s not to say it’s impossible, of course, as there are options in Evolving Wilds and even Shimmering Grotto, but consistency is going to be an issue no matter how you slice it. So, again, the first step is to make sure that your wild brew is going to be feasible given the restrictions of the format.

Counting and Colors

Once you’ve decided that your deck is, in fact, feasible, then it’s time to start brewing. Make your spell choices, build out your shell, and save the mana for later. Given how dependent your land choices are on your spell selection, it is nigh impossible to build your mana base first, and construct your deck to suit. Once you’ve got your deck constructed sans-land, it’s time to catalogue your spell choices. You’ll want to take note of three distinct sets of information. First your mana curve or, loosely put, the number of non-utility spells in your deck corresponding to each Converted Mana Cost(CMC.) For instance, Grizzly Bears goes in the 2-CMC slot because you’re likely to want to cast it on the second turn. Doom Blade does not go into the 2-CMC slot, since it is a utility spell that you’re going to cast when it is strategically optimal, not at your first opportunity. For example, imagine a deck with a mana curve that looks like 9,8,8,11, at the 1, 2, 3, and 4 CMC slots respectively. Given an appropriate mana base to work from, this deck will fairly consistently curve out where it drops a 1-drop on turn one, 2-drop on turn two, and so on through turn four. Once you’ve got an idea of what your mana curve looks like, take stock of the color requirement for each spell, including utility spells and land activations such as Moorland Haunt. Here, specifically, you’re looking for spells with more than one colored mana symbol in the cost. For example, Doom Blade is easier to cast than Victim of the Night which is easier to cast than, say, Massacre Wurm because of the extra color requirements in the casting cost. Your mana base needs to be able to support every spell in your deck, as well as time constraints, such as what turn you want to be casting your Day of Judgment. Finally, once that’s done, take one last look to determine where in the mana curve your colors fit. In last week’s Black White deck, you may have noticed that all of my white spells are 3-CMC, at the high end of my mana curve. That means that I don’t have any use for White mana on turn one or two, so I have extra turns to draw a White source before I might need it.

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Making Your Mana

Now that we’ve taken stock of our deck, it’s time to make our first attempt at a mana base. Looking at the type of deck you’re constructing (Aggro, Combo, Control, etc.) and, having a rough idea of what your mana curve looks like, you can consult the handy chart here to see roughly how many lands you should include. To be sure, 24 is a safe bet to start with, but you’ll want to skew up or down depending on what you’re trying to do with the deck. I’ve seen successful decks running as few as 16 and as many as 37 lands, so don’t think that you need to keep it in the 22 to 26 land range forever. Acceleration, such as Birds of Paradise and Rampant Growth should also be taken into account when deciding how much land to include. I’ve seen a few different suggestions for this, but I like the 2-for-1 approach, where you can safely remove a single land for every two acceleration spells. In case you’re running 4 Rampant Growth, for example, you can usually get away with going from 24 down to 22 lands, assuming sufficient green sources to actually cast the accelerants, based on wanting 4 mana available on turn four. Finally, we get to our land composition.

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For land composition, you’ll want to start with the mana symbols you noted before and breaking down your lands based on the number of mana symbols of each color. Say you have a deck with 20 Green mana symbols and 15 Red. That makes your deck composition 57% Green and 43% Red, so utilizing only 24 basic lands, you’ll get roughly 14 Forests and 10 Mountains. Next look at the color requirements for individual spells, and decide whether this mix of lands will actually support all of your spells. Say you hope to be able to cast Slagstorm on turn three, the double Red requirement is going to be difficult with only 10 Red sources in the deck. In fact, you shouldn’t expect to see a second red source until around turn five. Enter dual lands. In this situation, we’re looking to have 2 Red sources available by turn three, which means we need 2 in 9 cards to be red sources, thus we need 13-14 Red sources in the deck. By including RG dual lands, Copperline Gorge and Rootbound Crag, in place of 4 Forests, we can get the requisite Red sources without infringing on our Green base. We can also make room for utility lands like Kessig Wolf Run here by removing one Forest and one Mountain for another dual land, which fills the color slots for both, while only taking up a single land spot. Swapping 4 Mountains and 4 Forests for the other 4 dual lands, we’ve now got room to include 4 utility lands while maintaining 14 Red and 14 Green sources. We’re now looking at 6 Forests, 6 Mountains, 4 Copperline Gorge, 4 Rootbound Crag, plus 4 Utility Lands. Most Wolf Run decks look to include 6 utility lands including 4 Inkmoth Nexus and 2 Kessig Wolf Run, though, so where do we go from here? Keeping in mind that Wolf Run also includes plenty of mana acceleration, we can opt to simply cut a Forest in favor of a utility land, and, like the Pros, run 25 total lands to make room for another, since we don’t want to lose out on any of our other colored sources.

Playtesting

Now that you’ve got your spells and lands sorted, it’s time for the ultimate test. Playtesting. You’ll want to playtest as much as possible in order to fine tune your land choices. If you find that you’re consistently heavy on one color and short on another, you can try swapping out a basic land. If you’re running a split of Scars duals and M12 duals (see below) and your lands are coming into play tapped at crucial moments, it may be worthwhile to reexamine your choices there and tweak the split. I personally like running the M12 duals with plenty of basic lands to ensure they come in untapped, as the fact that Scars lands always come in tapped after turn three is usually troublesome. Since no deck is ever perfect, this part of the process is ongoing. As you make tweaks to your spells from playtesting, you’re going to have to rebalance your lands to accommodate, and as you get more games under your belt with the deck, you’ll have a better idea of how your mana base is working and what changes might be beneficial.

Pros Breaking Rules

Now let’s look at something a bit less straightforward like Raphael Levy’s Frites 2.0 which looks to use all five colors. This is a bit of a stretch of Rule Number One above, so naturally I want to talk about it. I’d like to point out that he’s only using a pair of M12 dual lands, which require basic lands in play to come in untapped. The rest of his duals are all Scars dual lands, which come in untapped as long as you control two or fewer other lands. The implication here is that many lands in the deck are coming into play tapped after turn three, so we expect to have our game plan roughly underway by that point. Looking at the colors, it’s apparent that the deck is primarily Green with almost 50% of mana symbols, plus the early turns will want to see green for the acceleration, so the inclusion of 6 Forests in addition to the 10 other Green mana sources seems perfectly reasonable. Next in the color pie is White, which makes up almost 1/3 of the deck, but gets very little love by way of land inclusion seeing only 6 land-based sources. The reasons for this seem twofold. First with Birds of Paradise and Avacyn’s Pilgrim in the deck, you’ve got plenty of White mana acceleration. Secondly, the primary source of White mana symbols is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which we’d actually be looking to put into the Graveyard so we can reanimate with Unburial Rites, leaving Lingering Souls and the Unburial Rites flashback as the primary sink for White mana. Of course, being able to eventually hard-cast an Elesh Norn is an excellent backup plan. Red and Black each make up roughly 10% of the color pie, but the Red spell, Faithless Looting wants to be cast earlier in the game than Black’s Unburial Rites. As such, Red gets 9 sources to Black’s 6 to better facilitate having Red mana early in the game for Looting. Finally, Blue has only the Flashback cost on Tracker’s Instincts, so the mana sources are scarce, including only 2 lands in a pair of Darkslick Shores.

So how do you cultivate your lands when building a new deck? Do you use similar methods, or do you have your own technique?

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Q&A

Q: If Phantasmal Image is cast on something with Undying, does it still get the +1/+1 counter when it dies? Will the same happen for a token resulting from Cackling Counterpart?

A: When Phantasmal Image copies, say, Strangleroot Geist, it copies all copyable characteristics of the Geist, including the Undying ability. When the Image dies, it’s Undying ability will trigger, and will bring it back to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter. When it re-enters the Battlefield from the Undying ability, the Image’s own ability allows it to choose another creature to copy. It still gets the +1/+1 counter, but it can now copy a different creature, if so desired.
For the token created by Cackling Counterpart, it does get the Undying ability which triggers when it dies but, since it’s a token, when it hits the graveyard it ceases to exist as a State-Based Action, thus it cannot be brought back to the Battlefield when the Undying ability resolves.

706.2. When copying an object, the copy acquires the copiable values of the original object’s characteristics and, for an object on the stack, choices made when casting or activating it (mode, targets, the value of X, whether it was kicked, how it will affect multiple targets, and so on). The “copiable values” are the values derived from the text printed on the object (that text being name, mana cost, color indicator, card type, subtype, supertype, expansion symbol, rules text, power, toughness, and/or loyalty), as modified by other copy effects, by “as . . . enters the battlefield” and “as . . . is turned face up” abilities that set characteristics, and by abilities that caused the object to be face down. Other effects (including type-changing and text-changing effects), status, and counters are not copied.

110.5f A token that’s phased out, or that’s in a zone other than the battlefield, ceases to exist. This is a state-based action; see rule 704. (Note that if a token changes zones, applicable triggered abilities will trigger before the token ceases to exist.)

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