EDH 101: How to Build an Effective Commander Land Base


Card: Command Tower | Art: Ryan Yee

Introduction

When building a Commander deck we often focus on the flashy spells and permanents of the deck. However, what is equally, if not more important, is the land base.


No point filling the deck with all those spells if you can’t cast them.


Today, let's take some time to focus on the lands in your Commander deck. Everything from mono-red to five-color monstrosities needs land.



In this article, we'll examine what goes into building great commander land bases. If you would like to follow along section by section, there are Scryfall searches at the bottom of the article to help you find the best lands for your own deck.


How Many Lands Should I Play In a Commander Deck?

The number of lands can vary from deck to deck. Typically you’ll hear something in the neighborhood of 30-40 lands, although some people go into the 20s for particularly fast decks, while some decks going very deep on a lands matter theme may go above 40.


However, in general, I recommend around 35. Of those 30 I like to split it 30:5. In other words, 30 lands there to produce mana and get my colors and five lands there for utility purposes.


When talking color, your mana base should be split to cover the spells you want to cast. One of the most common ways to do this is to count the number of mana symbols of each color in your deck. Then, split your lands based on the number of pips.


Some deck builders, like Moxfield, can do this for you.


Using my Kethis, the Hidden Hand deck, Moxfield has given us some useful data. We can see the percentage of mana symbols for each color, the percentage of lands that produce a color, and the percentage of symbols on lands given to that color.


In my case, black takes up 28% of all symbols on cards, but 39% of my lands can produce black. This could mean that I have too many black sources and could instead use that to bolster white.


If the deck was all basic lands, we would take the number of strictly mana-producing lands and multiply it by 0.39, 0.28, and 0.36 to give us 12 Plains, eight Swamps, and 10 Forests.


There may be some rounding involved here as you can’t put half a basic land in your deck, but it gives you an idea.


Now that we have our percentage breakdown of colors we need to think about how we can make those colors. When looking at lands there are a couple of broad categories to consider: duals, tri-lands, fetches, and rainbow lands.


Dual & Tri-Lands

I will lump dual, and tri-lands together as both have a very similar role to fill when deck building. In general, this category includes any land that taps for one or more colors when you tap it. While these may seem like just strictly better basic lands, most dual lands come at a price.


In the case of Adarkar Wastes, this price is losing one life every time you tap it. Azorius Guildgate enters the battlefield tapped. Hallowed Fountain enters tapped unless you pay two life. Tundra costs around $220 on a good day. Even if you are willing to pay the in-game (or monetary) price for these cards, what else should be considered before you fill up your decks with all these non-basics?



First, think about the speed of your deck. Are you okay with having a land enter tapped every turn? There are certainly enough dual lands to entirely fill even a two-color deck with nothing but them. However, is it worth the trade-off of most of your lands entering the battlefield tapped?


The lands entering tapped may be fine in a slower environment or if the payoff is good enough, but if all your lands enter tapped it could be more trouble than it is worth.

Another thing to keep in mind is how these lands come into play. If you are a green mage making good use of effects like Rampant Growth, you will need to make sure you have enough basics to compliment it.


On the other hand, you may want to consider swapping in a Farseek enabling you to add dual lands that have basic land types. It is all a balancing act as there is an abundance of spells that search for basics, but grabbing non-basics is far rarer among ramp spells.

Lastly, I would consider how punished are you going to be for playing these lands? It is not uncommon to come across a Blood Moon, Archon of Emeria, or Back to Basics in Commander, leaving you starved of mana.


It certainly doesn't take a dedicated stax deck to play these cards. All of these are staples in their own right, and game enders if your mana base isn't able to deal with them.


This is especially true in cEDH where these effects are used to keep powerful lands in check.


Basics will help you fight through these effects.

In terms of dual lands, there are ample options. I would strongly encourage you to look for duals that enter the battlefield untapped as much as possible. Some obvious slam dunks in this category are the Ravnica shock lands, original Alpha duals, and the check lands from Ixalan/Dominaria.

While these are obvious includes in most decks, I would also recommend you look further. That's especially true for incomplete cycles like the tango lands, tribal lands, and horizon lands. These are great includes, but are not available in every color, so use them to your advantage when you can.

Dual/tri lands are some of the most versatile lands and they are in abundance at all price ranges. Five to 10 dual/tri lands would allow for ample fixing, and hopefully some good fetch targets.


Fetch Lands

Speaking of, fetch lands are some of the best options in Commander when it comes to getting your colors. In its simplest form, a fetch land is any land that allows you to search for another land. Many fetch lands do not produce mana themselves but allow you to find the lands that give you the mana you need.


The most iconic of the bunch are the Zendikar/Onslaught fetches. One major advantage of fetches is that you can play off-color fetches in your Commander deck.



Marsh Flats searches for a Plains or a Swamp but nothing stops me from playing it in my Jeskai deck and using it to fetch a Tundra. This makes them incredibly versatile. It also makes it easier to make decks work with whatever collection of fetches you have.


Some mono-color decks even run fetch lands to help thin out their deck and prevent mana flooding. However, the same consideration should be given to fetches as you do with duals in terms of speed and playing around taxing effects. Having your Marsh Flats fizzle thanks to an Aven Mindcensor, or Opposition Agent are all too familiar for many players.



When talking about slow fetch lands, Evolving Wilds and Teramorphic Expanse often come to mind. However, an often overlooked cycle of lands is the slow fetches. These can also be hit by Mindcensor and Opp Agent, however, they are considerably cheaper if budget is your concern. It is unfortunately only a half cycle so you do have fewer options than with the more expensive counterpart.


Fetch lands serve additional functionality outside of just finding colors. Land decks such as Gitrog Monster turn these cards into cantrips, or a way to reset the top of your deck after activating Sensei's Divining Top. They can also help shuffle away a bad card with Bolas's Citadel.


Fetch lands are incredibly versatile tools, especially in the right deck. They can help get the edge and win games. If you value the lands-matter theme. Consider playing three to five fetches, especially if you play dual/tri lands that are on color. If you think you can go unpunished try playing more so you can thin your deck in the process.


Rainbow Lands

Next, let's look to the world of rainbow lands. These are lands that tap for any color. These can come in many forms and have various different criteria to give you access to that mana.


Outside the usual 'enters the battlefield tapped' the noteworthy rainbow lands usually make you jump through some hoops to get their multicolored advantage. The most played examples of rainbow lands have you giving your opponent some advantage for mana, these include City of Brass, Tarnished Citadel, and Forbidden Orchard.

Rainbow lands also have some creative means of making you pay for any color. This could involve restricting what the mana can be used on, or letting you use the mana a limited number of times like the depletion lands. Some come with a restriction that requires you to control a certain game item, such as an artifact.

Rainbow lands become particularly potent in three-, four-, and five-color decks. Some of the restrictions are bizarre and borderline unplayable. However, there are a great number of lands that can elevate your mana base for little cost. Use these to fill in the gaps where you can't find an untapped dual, or in decks with three or more colors.


Utility Lands

This is the most 'creative' slot of the bunch. I like to include five flexible utility land slots. These are lands that are more like spells and aren't true mana producers. Having a powerful ability on a land gives you access to effects without needing to devote an entire card to them.


At worst, these are all just lands that tap for colorless mana, so they are not a dead card if you never use the ability. Some classics in this category are Reliquary Tower, Rogue's Passage, and Buried Ruin but there are so many more. Look for lands that benefit your deck.

Another common type of utility land is land destruction. As we have already seen, Commander has some very powerful lands and it is only right that we keep those lands in check.


Ghost Quarter, Wasteland, and Strip Mine all help deal with problematic lands, or even just deny your opponent access to all their colors.

But why just stop at destroying lands? Many utility lands out there can destroy other permanents too! Boseiju, Who Ensures has been seeing widespread play in green decks thanks to it being hard to interact with and being able to hit such a wide array of permanents.


Meanwhile, Blast Zone has been wiping boards since its debut in War of the Spark. Finally, if you really think this whole 'having creatures' thing is overrated, look to The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to keep your opponents' resources tight and their boards clean.

The power of utility lands is twofold. Firstly, there is an apprehension for decks to play land destruction, therefore we can get away with very nasty things. Secondly, these effects are tied to activated/triggered abilities.


It is very easy for a blue player to counter your Regrowth when you try to get back a win-con out of your graveyard. It is much harder for them to counter Buried Ruin's activated ability.



Conclusion

To tie all this together, let's summarize what we have discussed. Include 30-40 lands total. Leave five slots for utility; the rest are mana producers.


Try to find a balance between basic and non-basic lands to accommodate your playstyle and meta. I recommend 30%-50% basics while the rest are non-basic. Consider the number of colored symbols on your cards, and the colors made by your lands to ensure you're never flooded or screwed on a color. Lastly, make sure to check out some of the weirder cycles of lands for budget options or fringe lands that could be amazing in your deck.


Example Landbase

Here is an example land base for a white, green, black deck that cares about counters. This is not for a specific deck, however, I hope it can give you the idea. It is up on Moxfield as a package. Feel free to import it into your own decks to experiment with!



Useful Resources & Scryfall Queries


 

What's your favorite way to build a mana base in Commander? Got any tips or tricks we missed? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!


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