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The night before Friday Night Magic you’re sitting at your kitchen table with your friends, arguing with them about which spells and what lands you should be putting in your constructed deck. One friend says: “No, you clearly need to take our your taplands - look at your curve, you’re too aggressive for them!”, while another says: “You need to keep those in to stay flexible and reach your high drops!” Who’s right in this situation? How would it be different if you were playing at a limited FNM with sealed and draft?
Mana curving and land base are both important parts of deckbuilding, and we’ll be covering them today in our second episode of Tolarian Tutor. Though we went over mana curve a bit in our first lesson, we’ll be taking a deeper dive this time and explore the intricacies of how curving and land base composition change in both limited and constructed formats.
What does the term Mana Curve refer to?
If we were to take a Magic deck and group the spells by converted mana cost from left to right, we can clearly see that we’re creating a graph of our deck to see how many low, middle and high drop cards we have.
Most decks will have the majority of its cards in the center, with a few cards to the left that can be played during our first few turns, and not too many to the right that might clog up our hand for the majority of the game. This creates a bell curve, which is the origin of the term Mana Curve.
You want a steady mana curve so that you can actually play Magic and cast spells every turn, curving out like we discussed during our last session. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of players don’t play cards like Pull From Tomorrow, because it takes 6 mana to cast and most players should be spending that mana doing something more relevant to the battlefield.
How important is having a mana curve that centers on 3 to 4 drops?
The answer to this question varies from format to format, set to set and deck to deck. Again, you’ll need to keep all of these things in mind when you build your deck and design its strategy.
Let’s focus on some recent limited sets. In more Aggressive formats like Amonkhet draft, your curve will probably peak earlier at around the 2-3 drop slots. Usually, a 2/2 for 2 is just considered a vanilla creature, but here a card like Watchers of the Dead is more relevant given the aggressiveness of this format. An example of a slower format would be in Modern Masters 2017, where your curve rested around the 3 to 4 drop range with creatures like Dinrova Horror at the top.
What are some of the signals to look out for in a set when figuring out how to optimize my mana curve?
This is a slightly more difficult question, but the easiest way to determine how aggressive or slow a format is would be to take a look at how good its mechanics are at attacking. Let’s take Amonkhet for example. With Amonkhet, Exert is a bad mechanic for blocking, but it’s very good at Attacking. So we get a bit of a hint there that we need to be more aggressive. In Gatecrash, Battalion was a mechanic that incentivized attacking with at least one or more creatures. That too should be a clue that it is a more aggressive format.
If it’s a slower format, you’ll see more efficient, low costed removal that takes care of lower drop creatures. As a result, 3-4 drops become much more important and have a bigger impact on the board state. Again looking at Modern Masters 2017, we saw the return of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, which made creatures like Mistmeadow Witch and Dinrova Horror more playable and able to hold their own on the battlefield.
Building a mana curve and land base that are both optimized and consistent is a key part of becoming a great Magic player. Studying from others and rigorous testing are both great ways to help you improve your skills, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Music Courtesy Of:
"Vintage Education" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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