Commander is a truly bizarre format, with wildly varying skill levels and competitive-mindedness across the ranks of the community. It’s a fantastic way to introduce players to the core mechanics and ethos of the game, but it can also be one of the most competitive formats out there. There’s something for everyone here, and that’s what gives it that “special something” you just don’t get from the likes of Modern or Standard.
One of the only restricting factors at times is the cost of entry, particularly when it comes to mana bases. The likes of fetchlands and ABUR dual lands can technically be the best lands to play in the format, and while mana rocks Mana Vault have become more accessible, they’re still not within reach of most players. And not all decks are designed to be as powerful as possible, either! Many players build decks that are full of cards they enjoy playing with, even if there are better options; that was the original mission statement of the format, and it lives on to this day.
With all this said, it’s good to ensure that your mana base is as effective as possible for both your deck’s needs and your wallet’s health! I’m going to show you some of the best options available to you on a budget, and how to make the most of your options.
It’s important to know that this is more of a general guide than gospel. There’s something in here for the vast majority of decks, but as every deck and player is different, your mileage may vary!
What’s in a Mana Base?
Whenever someone mentions a mana base, a lot of players think only about lands. In many formats, this is the norm, but I believe it’s only a small piece of the picture in Commander. I define a mana base as “the cards that contribute to the mana production of the deck they are in.” This covers a much wider range of cards, and I categorize them under the following groups:
- Land Ramp
- Mana Rocks
- Mana Enchantments
- Mana Dorks
Some of these categories will overlap, but they’re each unique enough to warrant their own distinction. There will also be some outliers or exceptions, though they tend to be quite rare and situational.
Without going into too much deck-building theory, the majority of decks should usually reserve 50% of their slots for the mana base in order to function smoothly. Again, this is just a guideline; some decks will stray from this, but it’s a great place to start. You want to be sure you can cast all of your sweet spells in time!
The average land count of a Commander deck (excluding cEDH, as that’s a whole other beast) is roughly 35-39. Lands like Maze of Ith are not included in this figure, as they don’t produce mana. The remaining 11-15 slots are usually reserved for some combination of fixing and mana acceleration cards. As a general rule of thumb: the lower the land count and higher the mana acceleration count, the faster (and typically more competitive) the deck will be. Keep this in mind when you’re building your mana bases, and make sure you build to the level you want to play with!
Every deck needs lands to operate in Commander, and as such, they’re the most important part of any mana base. Monocolored decks are fantastic for budget players, as they can get away with playing a high number of basics. Decks with two colors can do similar, though some number of dual lands will help make them more consistent. Any deck with more than two colors will usually need more duals to maintain the same level of consistency — and thankfully, there are plenty of options!
The Battle for Zendikar lands (like Prairie Stream) are excellent choices for budget mana bases, as they become more useful the more basics you play. Amonkhet’s cycling lands (like Scattered Groves) provide great fixing in the early game, and they give you a redraw if you top-deck them later on. Both of these land types work wonderfully with “check lands” like Sulfur Falls, as they have basic land types to let it enter untapped.
Creature lands have become much more affordable in recent times; they’re seeing less play in formats where they were popular, most notably in Modern. Celestial Colonnade is the most expensive one still, but it’s a fraction of the price it once was. These provide you with two colors as well as additional utility, and are a fantastic choice if they’re within your budget.
Pain lands are also worth mentioning, since their downside is less of an issue in a format that gives you a whopping forty life to play with! However, the ally-colored ones are in desperate need of a reprint, so they’re much more expensive than the enemy-colored versions.
Finally, we have the Temples from Theros. They aren’t ideal, as they provide minimal value in exchange for always entering tapped, but they’re some of the most affordable dual lands available and are worth consideration.
Cards that provide “fixing” help you access the colors you need to play without increasing the number of mana sources in your deck. Open the Gates is a great example of this style of card, but green isn’t the only color with access to them; many of the most popular options are actually artifacts, giving any color access to decent fixing. Dedicated fixing spells tend to be used in less competitive builds; they don’t speed up your game plan, so they’re ideal if you need to pull a deck down a point or two without reducing its potential.
Traveler’s Amulet is a personal favorite of mine for both its affordability, and simplicity. Prophetic Prism is another common choice; it draws a card instead of fetching a land, which can be attractive to decks that need fewer lands to operate. Being able to filter mana is invaluable in many decks, too, especially ones with either heavy color requirements or many smaller splashes. Expedition Map is perhaps the best option in this section, however; it’s slightly more expensive than the others in terms of both cost and efficiency, but the ability to tutor for any land in your deck is a potent ability. This often sees play in even more powerful lists for this very reason.
When I talk about land ramp, I’m referring to the cards that allow you to circumvent the standard rule of playing one land per turn — Rampant Growth is such an iconic example that it’s become the namesake for these types of effects. These are predominantly green spells, though there are some rare exceptions. They’re often seen as the standard for Commander (alongside mana rocks), and they see a lot of play. Decks that want to hit their land drops or trigger landfall (Tatyova, Benthic Druid, for example) particularly like these.
Cultivate is another classic piece of land ramp, accelerating your natural land drops by a full turn while ensuring you make your next one. Circuitous Route is less common, but absolutely incredible in decks that run multiple colors. Explore is another great staple, but tends to make its way into decks with higher land counts.
Two recent cards that would be great additions to your decks are Roiling Regrowth and Migration Path. Roiling Regrowth is similar to Harrow, but the lands don’t enter untapped. While this is a downside, sacrificing a land isn’t part of the cost; if Regrowth gets countered, you won’t be down a land, unlike with Harrow. Migration Path is simply Explosive Vegetation with cycling, making it a much better top-deck later in the game. Far Wanderings is another great budget option: it’s less efficient than Rampant Growth, but if threshold is online, it becomes one of the best ramp spells available.
As mentioned earlier, the other colors are very limited in their land ramp options. Kor Cartographer is one of the best options in white; its ability is worded so you can search up any Plains card, so you can grab a Prairie Stream, if you want! Dreamscape Artist gives you a few hoops to jump through, but if your deck cares about discarding (Rielle, the Everwise, for example), then it becomes very attractive. Myriad Landscape is one I recommend in most non-green decks; it’s a decent rate, and you can tutor it with an Expedition Map, if necessary!
This is the form of mana acceleration most ubiquitous with Commander; Sol Ring has become a poster child for the format. A large number of the most played cards in Commander fit under this umbrella. These cards have been reprinted in so many Commander products that most players know them by now, but there are some real gems available that are often overlooked for more raw power (and usually higher cost).
Before I dive in here: don’t let anyone tell you that three-CMC mana rocks are unplayable (it’s been a hot topic for the past few months). They might not have a place at some higher-power tables and cEDH circles, but they’re perfectly good cards that can provide additional synergies and value in the right deck.
Cultivator’s Caravan is a great piece of ramp that excels in vehicle-heavy or creature-based decks, providing a way to tap creatures (Magda, Brazen Outlaw, anyone?) and convert excess mana ramp into another threat. The Lockets from the most recent Ravnica sets are also fantastic for any two-color budget deck, turning into additional cards later on to help keep you in the game. The Crystals from Ikoria are similarly decent at any point in the game, further reducing the number of bad top-decks you can encounter.
Not enough decks play Everflowing Chalice. It’s one of my auto-includes in almost any monocolored deck, as it scales exceptionally well with the game thanks to multikicker. Pillar of Origins is a must-have for any tribal list, and at just two mana, it’s as efficient as more competitive choices, like Arcane Signet. Finally, Spectral Searchlight is a quirky little rock; you can leverage your own mana acceleration at different points to gain brownie points with your opponents, making this an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys the political aspect of the game.
Mana enchantments are somewhere in between land ramp and mana rocks: they’re permanents that increase your mana production, but require lands to function. These see play most commonly in Enchantress and enchantment-heavy Voltron decks because of the available synergies, but they’re perfectly serviceable in any green deck.
Fertile Ground and Wolfwillow Haven are very similar, but with minor differences. You could easily run both of them in one deck alongside Overgrowth, which is a slightly beefier aura. At just 25 cents, all three of these are a steal!
The most commonly played green creature in Commander is Llanowar Elves, which is indicative of green’s reliance on mana dorks. Creatures that tap to add mana are a dime-a-dozen in the color, but just like the land ramp we covered earlier, it’s rarely seen outside of that. They’re usually at their best in creature-heavy decks: they can speed up your early game, then benefit from Overrun-style effects when trying to close the game. They’re more susceptible to removal and sweepers, however, so be careful not to be too reliant on them!
The Myr cycle from Scars of Mirrodin are colorless, two-mana creatures that each tap for a single color, and they’re an excellent choice for most monocolored decks. Palladium Myr is the Myr cycle’s bigger brother; it can only make colorless mana, but it generates two. Blue has access to some powerful yet restrictive mana dorks, and Renowned Weaponsmith is the perfect example. An initial investment of two mana to get two mana per turn is incredible, even if it’s only to be used on artifacts. Weaponsmith’s second ability is also incidentally decent in decks that just need critical mass of cheap artifacts (Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, for example).
Mana engines are a unique subset of accelerants that can provide absurd amounts of mana, but usually require specific builds to maximize their potential. They tend to fall into two categories: mana generators and mana reducers.
Red has excellent mana generators, and many of the best and most affordable ones are fairly new cards. Fires of Invention effectively doubles your mana at the expense of playing a limited number of spells at sorcery speed, and Runaway Steam-Kin rewards you for playing as many cheap red spells as possible. Birgi, God of Storytelling is the newest mana generator to hit Magic, and she is the easiest to build around; since she generates one mana from every spell you cast, you’re not restricted by colors or timing.
Mana reducers are much more universal in their colors, but can vary in their restrictiveness. Goblin Electromancer is an Izzet staple, as altering the amount of mana you pay for instants and sorceries can have a profound impact over the course of even a single turn. The Monuments from Amonkhet are an often overlooked cycle that are useful in monocolored decks. Hazoret’s Monument is a personal favorite of mine; not only can it reduce the cost of all your red creatures, but it’s especially helpful for maintaining steady card velocity — something that red occasionally struggles with. Finally, Ugin, the Ineffable is a powerhouse in almost any deck. While it’s at its best in artifact-based or predominantly colorless decks, Ugin makes any deck’s mana rocks either mana neutral or mana positive. When you consider that this ability also comes with a flexible planeswalker attached, it’s hard to see why Ugin sees so little play.
This final section is about rituals: cards you can exchange for a temporary burst of mana, usually in red or black. The name comes from Dark Ritual, a favorite of many players new and old. These spells are often used in somewhat more competitive or even degenerate decks, but they’re helpful at any power level. Like with most fast mana, they’re only as good as the spells you’re casting after them!
There have been very few new rituals printed in the past few years (mostly due to how dangerous they can be), but recent sets have produced a few interesting, albeit restrictive spells. Irencrag Feat is one of these new rituals, giving you an explosive amount of mana that can only be used on one spell. (You can still use any leftover mana to activate abilities, if you want). High Tide is an unorthodox ritual that relies on Islands to be effective, but it has proven its power over the years. Bubbling Muck is extremely similar to High Tide, except in black and with a symmetrical effect. This can be leveraged to your advantage in some scenarios, but even without that it’s still a powerful spell with many applications.
The variety available in mana bases is truly amazing, no matter your budget or power level. There is no right or wrong way to build your mana base, either: if you want to build the most efficient mana base possible on a budget, more power to you! If you’re like me and play Manalith in your decks because it reminds you of simpler times, you’ve got my full support! The most important thing is that you’re casting the spells you enjoy most, and hopefully this guide has helped you find a few new ones to add to the list!
Do you have any mana sources that you’d consider hidden gems for Commander? Let me know over on Twitter — I’d love to see your favorites!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.