How to Build a Mana Base in MTG

Manage your mana base without getting screwed (or flooded)!

Mana is the fundamental resource of Magic: the Gathering. Without it, you can’t play the game. Every aspect of MTG, including sideboarding, mulligans, gameplay and especially deckbuilding require a deep understanding of mana.

There’s no secret formula that will always deliver a perfect mana base. However, in this Foundations piece, I’ll give you some useful starting points.

How Many Lands to Play

For a normal-looking Standard deck, a good default is 25 lands. This gives you a high chance (around 90 percent) of hitting your first three land drops, and makes it realistic to cast four and five-mana spells in a reasonable time frame.

For a normal-looking Limited deck, 17 lands with 40 total cards will get you a similar result.

An important note is that even following these recommendations, there’s still a fail rate. There’s no such thing as “good enough.” An ideal land count means striking a healthy balance between drawing enough lands, but not drawing too many. It doesn’t mean getting a perfect draw every single game.

Mana Curve

Your mana curve refers to the number of cards you have at each different mana cost – cheap cards and expensive cards.

Kumano Faces Kakkazan
Bloodfeather Phoenix
Rampaging Raptor

Having all expensive cards means you’ll never have anything to play in the early turns of the game. On the other hand, having all cheap cards means you’ll quickly gas out and be outclassed by your opponent. You get your best results by having a mix of cards of varying mana costs.

While the concept of mana curve is always important, the same configuration won’t be right for every deck. Some decks will have a slightly higher mana curve, and will be served best by a slightly higher land count. Other decks will have a lower mana curve, and will perform best with a lower land count. For example, you might play 22 or 23 lands in a deck that doesn’t care much about hitting its fourth land drop on time.

Nonland Sources of Mana

Birds of Paradise
Wolfwillow Haven
The Celestus

Nonland sources of mana can lead you to reduce your land count, but you shouldn’t count them directly as lands. For one thing, you can’t cast Wolfwillow Haven unless you already have access to two mana, including green. For another, your Birds of Paradise might be met by Lightning Bolt before it gives you any mana. Perhaps most importantly, you’re playing these cards with the goal of jumping ahead in mana, and missing land drops is counter to that goal.

Card Drawing and Card Selection

Scrying and drawing extra cards can help you regulate the number of lands that you draw. Note that this cuts both ways. If you haven’t drawn enough lands, you can use card drawing and card selection to find more; if you’ve drawn too many lands, you can use card drawing and card selection to find spells to cast.


Ravnica: Clue Edition, Common

Consider - Ravnica: Clue Edition - magic

This can make it very hard to tell how many lands you should be playing when your deck has lots of Opts, Considers and Impulses. You might be playing less than the optimal number of lands, and yet you’re not getting mana screwed because your card selection spells are bailing you out. Nevertheless, if you have to constantly use your card selection to find lands, you might be making things harder on yourself than they need to be.

Mishra’s Bauble

Double Masters, Uncommon

Mishra's Bauble - Double Masters - magic

The specifics of your spells matter too. A blank “draw a card” as it appears on Mishra’s Bauble can result in flooding. If you have a high number of this style of cantrip, you should reduce your land count a little bit.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker 

Prerelease Cards, Rare

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker - Prerelease Cards - magic

On the other hand, I like to err on the side of extra lands in my Fable of the Mirror-Breaker decks, with the logic that I can cash in extra lands that I’ve drawn with chapter two of the Saga to avoid flooding.

Mana Screw, Mana Flood and Mana Sinks

Mana screw and mana flood can happen to anyone, with any deck, at any level of competition – they’re simply part of the game. That said, there are techniques you can use in both deckbuilding and gameplay to manage these risks. Doing a good job building your mana base and mana curve is step one, but here are a few other tricks you can use.

Jegantha, the Wellspring
Reckoner Bankbuster

Build some ways to use extra mana right into the structure of your deck. Once you do, you can afford to play a slightly higher land count, thereby reducing the risk of mana screw and mana flood simultaneously.

Cut Down
Spell Pierce

To mitigate the effects of mana screw, play with cheap cards that can answer or trade with more expensive cards from your opponent. Lowering your mana curve is one of the best ways to improve the consistency of your deck, and the quality of your opening hands.

Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
Mishra's Foundry

Seek to take value from your mana base. Good examples are the channel lands and Plaza of Heroes in Standard Esper Legends, or creature-lands like Mishra’s Foundry in monocolored aggro decks.

The Cost of Adding Colors

Splashing colors is something you can do in both Limited and Constructed, and sometimes many-colored mana bases are quite strong. However, everything comes at some cost. The more things that can go wrong, the less often things will go exactly right.

Jetmir’s Garden

Streets of New Capenna, Rare

Jetmir's Garden - Streets of New Capenna - magic

One cost of playing multiple colors is having your lands enter the battlefield tapped. A Mountain will always provide mana the turn you play it. Jetmir’s Garden, Haunted Ridge or Copperline Gorge may not.

The true cost of lands entering the battlefield tapped – and how many you can afford to play in your deck – depends on your exact strategy. An aggressive deck that wants to play a one-drop, a two-drop and a three-drop literally cannot do so if one of its lands enters the battlefield tapped. This is why aggressive decks perform best when their mana bases aren’t stretched too far. On the other hand, if you’re playing a slower strategy with no one-mana spells at all, you hardly mind playing a tapped land on the first turn.

Underground River
Shivan Reef

Sometimes you get mana fixing at the expense of paying life. Don’t underestimate the accumulation of life loss, even against opponents who aren’t aggressively attacking your life total. It can be a big deal to be deep into a long game and look down to find yourself at 13 instead of 20.

When it comes to my personal philosophy, I always say that I’d rather cast my spells a turn late than not cast them at all. As such, I’m more likely to cut a color from a deck than to add an extra color. If I do have demanding mana requirements, I’ll often play one or two more tapped dual lands than what might be “stock” (this is particularly true if it’s a value land like a Triome).

Basic Lands


With so many sweet dual lands and value lands available, we can lose appreciation for good old fashioned Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain and Forest. But there are many cards, ranging from Blood Moon in Modern to Demolition Field in Standard, that punish you for having too few basic lands. If there’s a risk of running into these cards, be sure to pack at least a couple of basic lands.