Hey everyone, Steve here, bringing to you what I hope will be a series of blogs about maximizing the effectiveness of your commander deck on a budget!
Today we’re going to focus on mana bases. The foundation of any deck is its lands, and nowhere is that more critical than in the Commander format. Depending on your curve, a typical Commander deck will run 36-38 lands, which is more than a third of your entire deck! You want to get this right and the good news is that you can do this even on a budget. I'm here to show you how!
(Editor's Note: For the purposes of this discussion, we’re not going to discuss fetch lands or the original dual lands on the reserved list. These cards aren’t accessible to the vast majority of new players or players on a budget.)
#1: Auto-Includes. These cards are going in your deck, no matter what. They’re also readily available and come included in all of the commander pre-constructed decks. These cards include Command Tower ($0.73), Exotic Orchard ($0.72), Myriad Landscape ($0.78), Evolving Wilds ($0.11), and Teramorphic Expanse ($0.22). They provide fixing in your commander’s colors and can help you in the early game to make sure you have all the colors you’ll need. Run. These. Cards. Total Cost for 5: $2.56
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about dual lands. We’re all familiar with the shock lands currently in standard and modern, but those can run you $8-$20 a piece if you don’t already have them. Sure, they’re great, you have the option to put them into play untapped at the cost of two life which, in a format like commander, is not all that much of a cost. Commander tends to be a slower, more casual format and not a lot happens in the early turns aside from ramping. Coming into play tapped isn’t a big deal. If you own them, run them. But, don’t feel compelled to buy them specifically for commander.
So let’s talk about alternatives, shall we? If your lands are coming into play tapped, effectively slowing you down a turn, how can we make sure we get value in return? Well, there’s a lot of ways!
#2: Scry Lands (also known as the Temples). If you’re not familiar with the scry mechanic, it allows you to look at the top card of your library and choose to leave it there, or put it on the bottom. In the early game, this can be helpful for finding what you need to make your hand work, and in the late game, it can be the difference between a winning top deck or drawing yet another land. The Temple cycle is great for this. The Temples were introduced in the first Theros block, and have been recently reprinted in Core Set 2020 and Theros Beyond Death. Those reprints have been extremely helpful for managing the cost of these cards, with average cost being just $1.07! In a three color deck, you will be able to run three of these. Total Cost for 3: $3.21
#3: Cycling (or Bicycle) Lands. Cycling is a mechanic that allows you to pay an alternative cost, discard the card, and then draw a new card. This can be helpful later in the game when you don’t need land but early enough you should feel good about putting these into play tapped to fix your mana. Amonkhet introduced five dual lands that can also be cycled away: Irrigated Farmland ($0.84), Fetid Pools ($3.22), Canyon Slough ($1.74), Sheltered Thicket ($2.01), and Scattered Groves ($1.50). These cards also have the basic land types in their type line which means they are fetchable or searchable with certain cards. Average cost: $1.86
There’s a cycling land in each color as well - Secluded Steppe ($0.06), Lonely Sandbar ($0.06), Barren Moor ($0.22), Forgotten Cave ($0.10), and Tranquil Thicket ($0.13) are all part of an uncommon land cycle that was just reprinted in Modern Horizons and Mystery Booster. You should run the ones that are in your colors. Total Cost for 3: $0.34
#4: Gain Lands. While gaining life in commander isn’t usually all that important (unless it fits with your deck’s strategy), gaining an incidental point of life in exchange for putting a tapped land into play is better than nothing. I highly recommend running the common cycle of “gain lands” which are all extremely cheap and readily available: Tranquil Cove ($0.08), Blossoming Sands ($0.07), Dismal Backwater ($0.11), Bloodfell Caves ($0.08), Rugged Highlands ($0.07), Scoured Barrens ($.08), Wind-Scarred Crag ($0.08), Swiftwater Cliffs ($0.10), Thornwood Falls ($0.03), Jungle Hollow ($0.08). While these lands cards certainly won't be all-stars in a Commander land base, they help smooth out your mana effectively at a pennies per card price and that can't be overlooked! Average Cost for 3: $0.24
Those are just three of the ways you can recoup some value in exchange for the lost tempo playing tapped lands but, what else do we have for dual land options on a budget?
#5: Check (or Buddy) Lands. These lands come into play tapped unless you control a land of the stated type on the card. These lands include Glacial Fortress ($4.95), Sunpetal Cove ($2.91), Drowned Catacomb ($4.62), Dragonskull Summit ($2.36), Rootbound Crag ($3.26), Isolated Chapel ($2.98), Clifftop Retreat ($2.88), Sulfur Falls ($2.39), Hinterland Harbor ($4.08), and Woodland Cemetary ($2.58). These lands are all $5 or less, and are pretty readily available thanks to printings in Ixalan and Dominaria. They’ll also come into play untapped more often than not thanks to basic lands and the Cycle Lands mentioned above! Average Cost for 3: $9.90
#6: Bounce Lands. These come into play tapped, but with a catch - you’ve got to return a land to your hand. The plus side is that they tap for two mana AND there’s always the possibility you could return a Scry Land or Cycle Land like I outlined above to get even more value out of the deal. I typically run them in 2 or 3 color builds. The Bounce Lands were most recently printed in Mystery Booster as well as Iconic Masters and they include Azorius Chancery ($0.22), Selesyna Sanctuary ($0.22), Dimir Aqueduct ($0.39), Rakdos Carnarium ($0.22), Gruul Turf ($0.25), Orzhove Basilica ($0.24), Boros Garrison ($0.24), Izzet Boilerworks ($0.20), Simic Growth Chamber ($0.44), Golgari Rot Farm ($0.23). These are a great source of added value, fixing and ramp in any Commander deck! Average Cost for 3: $0.80
#7: Tri-Lands (or Shard Lands). If your deck is three or more colors, you should also consider the Tri-Lands. This is an uncommon land cycle that several were just reprinted in the Mystery Booster product and includes: Arcane Sanctum ($0.48), Seaside Citadel ($1.20), Jungle Shrine ($0.25), Crumbling Necropolis ($0.46), Savage Lands ($0.69), Mystic Monastery ($0.33), Nomad Outpost ($0.73), Sandsteppe Citadel ($0.32), Opulent Palace ($0.31), and Frontier Bivouac ($0.34). While these lands do come into play tapped, they’re great for fixing and I highly recommend them. Average Cost: $0.51
At common, there’s always the Guildgates. They don’t have any added benefit for your deck aside from fixing but, I’ll usually run them in my 2 color builds without hesitation. You can never have too much fixing. At an average cost of $0.05 each, you really can't go wrong. Average Cost for 3: $0.15
Okay, so we’ve got our dual lands. Let’s talk about utility. What is a utility land? Utility lands typically don’t tap for colored mana but have other abilities that might come in handy. Strip Mine ($20) and Wasteland ($24) are commander favorites for dealing with an opponent’s flipped Search for Azcanta, Cabal Coffers, Maze of Ith, or any other land that might be giving them some value. Those cards are expensive though, and there are cheaper alternatives like Ghost Quarter ($0.40), Field of Ruin ($0.38), and Tectonic Edge ($0.41). I’d recommend running these instead of paying $20 or more for a land that deals with the same types of problems.
Every commander deck needs to have some number utility lands, the number of them depends on the number of colors you’re running. More colors means, less slots for utility lands because more fixing is needed. Two more utility lands to consider in any Commander deck are Buried Ruin ($0.98) and Geier Reach Sanitarium ($0.80) because who doesn't love returning their favorite artifact or drawing cards? Total Cost for 5: $2.97
There you have it - using a 3 color deck as a guide, we built a budget mana base of 30 cards for $22.54. Throw in 3 basic lands of each type in your Commander's colors and you have a full, 39 land mana base!
I hope you find these tips useful in constructing your next commander deck, and if there’s any lands I left out, or that you feel should be included, definitely let me know! And of course, I can’t write this without letting you all in on a little secret, most, if not all, of these lands are available down at the shop, so next time you’re in be sure to ask for the playables box with the non-basic lands. You won’t be disappointed!
Take it easy, and stay safe. I hope to see all of you soon down at the shop!