SpikeBoyM's picture
By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jun 17 2008 12:00am
Login to post comments

PDC is an all player run format on Magic Online.  It consists of competitive games using exclusively commons cards.  Games can be found in the "/join pdc" room and events can be found on the Magic Online official message boards.  For more information please visit pdcmagic.com.

There are some aspects of the game we take for granted. Sure, Faeries is a very strong deck in Standard at the moment, but it makes do without access to basic Swamps, which explains why maindeck Magus of the Moon was such savage tech at Hollywood. When it was announced that Onslaught was going to be sticking around Extended for an extra year the players were ecstatic not because it meant another year of Goblin Piledrivers, but because it meant another year of Flooded Strand and its brethren. Without fail, some of the biggest chase cards of any set are going to be the non-basic lands, specifically when they can create multiple colors of mana. It makes sense of course, mana makes the world go round- it makes the game go. If the mana in Standard was awful, there would not be a dominant Faerie deck like we know the deck- the mana just cannot support the spells. In PDC, the mana available to decks is greatly restricted, and as such, the decks that are viable are limited by the mana.

More than any other factor of playing with only commons, the lack of powerful lands (in terms of mana production) is the limiting factor of PDC.

Now the mana in PDC is bad, but not as bad as it used to be. Ravnica block brought with it the bouncelands/karoos, making two color decks more consistent in the mid-game. Time Spiral brought Terramorphic Expanse which again added multicolor decks. Yet neither of these cards fill the role that the dual lands or pain lands fill in “normal” Magic. Simply put, PDC lacks strong non-basic lands that enable the early game and have decent lands for the mid and late game. The exception to this, however, are the Artifact lands from Mirrodin Block that enable the Affinity deck, but that is a special case, since those cards are restricted.

Before we delve further into examining mana bases, I feel it important to give a brief overview of the lands commonly played in PDC, and a brief summary of the different cycles.

Basic Lands and Basic Snow Lands

The most played lands in the format by far. By virtue of their rarity and the fact that most every common accelerator cares about Basic Land type, these cards make up the majority of mana bases in PDC decks because they are consistent and enable plays on every turn. The Snow Lands are played for one real reason: Skred. Occasionally Gelid Shackles will make an appearance, but most of the time Snow exists really to power up the Snow Plow.

Invasion Sac Lands

These lands are largely marginal and only see play in dedicated Storm combo decks. As these decks are easily hated out of the format, they only matter from time to time.

The Odyssey Sac Lands see no play in Classic, the only format in which they are legal.

Snow-Covered Island
Vault of Whispers

Onslaught Cycle Lands

Probably the most played non-Basic land because of their simplicity and relevance in the late game. The fact that they come into play tapped are negated by the fact that they are not dead late and allow card selection into decks that are not Blue. The fact that they do come into play tapped means that aggressive decks need to carefully consider how many of these they want in the deck, finding that balance between late game potential and early game speed bumps.

Mirrodin Artifact Lands

The only lands so good that they are restricted to one of each in the formats they are legal in. Affinity with these lands is a strong deck; without the lands it is still a contender. Personally, I am in the camp that one day the power level of Classic PDC will be such that thee lands can be unrestricted, but I do not feel that day is here yet (some testing has been done, but more needs to occur before an option should be presented to the community). These lands allow Affinity to accelerate and steal turns. Similarly, midrange decks featuring Blue use these lands as part of a Trinket Mage tutor package to help smooth out draws. Outside of those decks, however, these lands see little to no play.

Ravnica Block Bouncelands

Here began the modern era of PDC deck design. Also known as karoos, these lands exchange a short term tempo loss for access to more colors and more mana in the late game. These lands also allow a deck to pack more mana into certain land slots, giving an edge to control decks. Along with the final land listed here, these lands are misused. Many decks run the wrong number, without regard for curve or how the deck wants to win. Rather, players see a land that produces mana and decide that it is good. There are no hard and fast rules for including these in your deck, except that some decks want none, and some want four, and there are decks of all variety in between.

(Terramorphic Expanse)

Another land that is not played right a majority of the time. An article unto itself is proper operations, such as cracking this land as late as possible to extract as much information from an opponent as possible. Every time I see someone lay this turn one and crack it, I brain a baby seal. Okay, maybe not, but still, you get the idea.

On a different note, I see this far too often in aggro decks, and far too little in control decks. This is a great card when played properly, and absolutely terrible when played incorrectly. The number of Expanses in your deck should correlate to your mana curve. If you have an abundance on important turn one spells, you most likely do not want this card (and can make up for its absence with more cycle lands later). If you have no plays on turn one, it makes sense to fun the full four sometimes, and other times you may not want a single one. Again, there is no hard and fast answer, and this card deserves an article all to itself.

Shimmering Grotto

I got into a long discussion about this card here. I would never run this deck in aggro, but I have come around on certain control decks. In certain cases, I can see running this for a small splash in PDC control decks, but only if those decks have very low colored mana requirements. That being said, in formats where you must hit every land drop optimally, I would probably not run this card.

So, looking at all these, what conclusion can we come to? First, the mana fixing in the format ranges from slow (Standard) to mediocre (Classic). Ideally, in a three color deck you can have access to all three colors by turn three with only two lands in play, but you may be very far behind on tempo from “wasting” a turn on a karoo. Also, the color fixing for aggressive decks is not great- control and midrange decks are the ones that benefit most from PDC color fixing. What this translates to is a number of one and two color aggro decks, and quite a few three color midrange decks that often only touch a third color for a key spell, or the Flashback on a spell like Momentary Blink or Strangling Soot. The nature of the color fixing in PDC means that the color fixing is only consistent in a deck that really gets going after turn three. Otherwise, draws could be excessively spotty and lead to bad openings. These slower decks tend to suffer in the early game, setting up their mana, before they are able to establish themselves in the mid and late game.

Second, it translates to the tension between power and consistency. This is one reason that MUC has been such a dominant force in Classic PDC: it runs both powerful cards and is highly consistent in its mana- it gets that from being one color. This deck solely runs Islands and Lonely Sandbars. The other consistent and strong mono-colored deck is MBC, which runs a certain amount of Expanses to help thin the deck, also benefits from the monochromatic mana base. These two decks are the most consistent control decks because of their mana, and yet they also run some very powerful cards.

Moving away from these decks, however, the tension increases. Yes, adding additional colors gives access to increasingly powerful effects, such as Recoil, Probe, Shambling Shell, and Temporal Spring, but with that additional power comes the cost of not hitting the appropriate mana to play the spell at the most opportune time. Similarly, playing a potentially more powerful spell in multiple colors means that you lose the chance to have the same consistently strong mono-color spells, such as Corrupt and Counterspell cast on time. While these loses can be lessened in similar cards such as Essence Drain and Negate, the total utility cannot be replaced. Yet, multiple colors do in certain cases provide more powerful cards, albeit to win, the deck has to slow down considerably.

Take, for example, Orzhov Blink (scroll down).

This is one of the midrange control decks I was describing before. Initially a two color deck, the introduction of Momentary Blink in Time Spiral meant that the mana base was stretched to include Blue to abuse cards like Ravenous Rats and Blind Hunter. This slowed the deck significantly because of the addition of more of the Ravnica lands and Terramorphic Expanse. When Lorwyn came around, some builds even tried to make space for Mulldrifter. The result is a deck that can fully exploit the mana available to PDC, but does so at a serious tempo hit- most Orzhov Blink decks do not really come online until turn five. This is a reason that the deck falls out of favor in Classic in periodically: it is just too slow. In order to harness the power of the colors, sacrifices in the early game must be made, and in order for the deck to be consistent, it needs to be slow. Sadly, this also makes it highly vulnerable, as destroying a Blue or White source can often slow this deck and others like it to a halt. That being said, these control decks are still the best suited to take advantage of the mana available in PDC.


However, the same mana that makes these decks viable prevents them from becoming a true three color control deck in the vein of Angelfire or Solar Flare from Standard of days gone by. Without a reliable way to have multiple colors on lands in play early in the game and therefore forcing one color to “splash status” means that any dedicated three color control deck is going to be slower than Stasis, and that my friends, is very slow.

Orzhov Basilica

Combo decks in PDC often have highly specialized mana bases (either the sac lands in the case of Storm combo, or a combination of Karoos and Artifact lands in Freed combo), and as such are constrained by the mana available. Seeing as how these decks tend to amass resources and then “go off,” their mana is less of a resource and more of a combo piece. Combined with the fact that I lack the patience to play PDC combo decks, and this means any analysis I give of PDC Combo mana is going to be spotty. However, these decks do need the best tuned mana bases to ensure that everything is in place at the proper moment. This leads to these decks have the most specialized mana bases, taking fullest advantage of the mana available, but not always putting the lands to best use.


I am lumping Aggro and Aggro-Control decks into the same mana categories here because of the fact that both mana bases are designed to get a strong aggressive draw. Really, as Adrian Sullivan and Richard Feldman have so accurately described in the past, really only Blue is able to be the aggro-control due to the color's stranglehold on counterspells (although White, as shown last article, is beginning to dabble in Blue's bread and butter). The overwhelming majority of successful PDC decks in this category are either one or two colors. If someone thinks they have a good three color aggro deck, they are probably playing midrange and do not know any better. Aggressive decks are those that at once most and least benefit from the mana available in PDC. Looking at the list of successful aggro decks, the reasoning behind this statement may seem odd at first, but take another look at the list- RG Aggro, Saps, Husk in Red, Angel Stompy, Top Deck Red/Burn Range- and something stands out, to me at least. The decks are either one or two colors. There have been other aggressive decks that pack three or more colors, but they have all been flash in the pans (and believe me, I tried to make Trinket Mage Zoo work). Why is this? Again, the answer lies in the mana. Once again, monochromatic decks get a significant advantage in this style of play since they will always hit the proper land drop, and as I wrote last time this is eminently important in aggro decks. Being able to curve out into larger threats and exploit Darksteel's Affinity golems is a strong advantage to monocolor decks. These aggro decks also get to run fewer land and can benefit from Karoos by simply running them in normal land slots, getting more bang for the buck. Also, these decks get to play the best one drops available in their color without worrying about them being dead cards. In aggro, this is extremely important.

Story time: Tom and I love to build aggro decks. We were trying to emulate the successful Boros builds of the a different past Standard, only to realize that there was no way to do it well, since PDC lacked the mana to make the one drops work. If access to Sacred Foundry was granted, then running Goblin Cohort alongside Lantern Kami would work. Trying to make that strategy work with Basic lands and (Boros Garrisons) did not make for a good deck. This is why our Boros decks all start on two. This allowed the deck to take advantage of Expanse. Not every deck can or should make use of this land. Only those decks where a curve starts at two or is heavily reliant on Threshold, should this land be considered as a three and four of. Since most aggro decks ideally start on turn one, running this land is a real gambit. Running it in a two land deck is enticing, but still a flaw.

The one drop is where the two color decks are weakest, since ideally you want to hit your one drop every time. The problem is in two color decks, if you have one drops in each color you run the risk of not being able to hit the ideal drop on the ideal turn. This is why most successful RG aggro decks to date have run between eight and ten Green one drops and no similar drops in Red. Instead, Red fills the role of burn and facilitates two drops and above. This allows the deck to skew the mana towards early green drops and make better use of Gruul Turf to facilitate the late game presence of Red. With the current crop of lands available in PDC, this is the motif to which most, if not all, two color aggro decks must adhere so as to execute their plan more often than not. In order for aggro decks to effectively use the curve to their advantage, the early drops must be skewed to one color and the land must follow this skew due to the mana of the format.

Why spend an entire article going on and on about what the mana means in PDC? Very simply, people build decks and get the mana all wrong or try to build decks that the mana of the format just cannot support. The aforementioned Trinket Zoo was a five color aggro deck that was held together by the loosest of threads with Trinket Mage and Chromatic Sphere. It was extremely powerful, yet horribly inconsistent. When it won, it was a blowout and yet it rarely won because of the horrid manabase. The lack multicolored lands that come into play untapped are the biggest limiting factor in PDC. It is why so many decks fail and why so many decks are abandoned before the mana is reworked. You do not always need four Karoos, you do not always need four Expanses. The mana base of a deck should be crafted to allow you to play the game you want to play without sacrificing the ability of the deck to perform. Mana base construction in PDC is the ultimate tightrope act.

Are you going to cross it?

Keep slingin' commons-



Other artifact mana by Klutz (Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 06/18/2008 - 15:40
Klutz (Unregistered)'s picture

Lotus Petal aside, I would have liked to have seen a little about other PDC artifact mana: RGD signets and Prismatic Lens.  I don't follow PDC closely but I understand they're not used much and I'm curious why.

by LordSanada (Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 06/18/2008 - 09:39
LordSanada (Unregistered)'s picture

Very nice article!  I do have to admit that I am one of those guys who max out Expanse and bouncelands with some freqency  My rationale is that I would rather be a turn behind tempo-wise than mana or color screwed but I see where you are coming from

by JXClaytor at Tue, 06/17/2008 - 22:10
JXClaytor's picture

It's hammy's tables.  Try as I might to get them to fit there, but there is just so much information in them that if I make them any smaller, then well, the information within them shrink :(   



by KingRitz (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 06/17/2008 - 22:35
KingRitz (Unregistered)'s picture


I have been critical of you at times in the past, so I owe it to you to give you a fair shake when you write something truly excellent and valuable to the PDC community. This article falls squarely into that latter category; it's fantastic, and I have no real quibbles with it anywhere. You even came around on Shimmering Grotto for small splashes in control decks! I am really impressed top-to-bottom. Bravo!

by KingRitz (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 06/17/2008 - 22:38
KingRitz (Unregistered)'s picture

As for Lotus Petal, I agree that it only plays in Affinity and Storm Combo (and maybe as a 1-of in Trinket Mage decks, though I'm not certain). However, I don't think its impact in those decks, especially in Storm, can be understated. Between Manamorphose and the coming Lotus Petal, Storm Combo may be able to call itself a tier-1 Classic PDC option very soon.

Second Best by SypherSun (Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 06/18/2008 - 04:18
SypherSun (Unregistered)'s picture

Great piece Spike! You second best article so far (I consider the one about beating MUC slightly better). Keep it up!

by anon (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 06/17/2008 - 10:49
anon (Unregistered)'s picture

You managed to fit the article into a usable width, Hamtastic take note.

by SpikeBoyM at Tue, 06/17/2008 - 19:08
SpikeBoyM's picture

With regards to Lotus Petal; only two decks will reap the full rewards of this card: Storm combo and Affinity.  They are the ones best set to use this card by swapping out cards less central to their mission (for example, I could see taking Welding Jar out of Affinity to gain the extra two turns a Lotus Petal would provide).

Next up, we have your one color aggro decks and Freed Combo.  Freed might just run this card to speed up their kill, and on the other hand may not be able to cut anything to make this card work, since they have to his at least 4 mana to go off.  One color aggro is really the only deck, in my mind, that can sacrifice the late game benefits of land for that early burst of power.  Stompy and RDW/TDR could probably run the Petal's without much fear, whereas the two color decks tend to want more mana in the mid and late game, where drawing a petal could be hazardous to one's health.

In other words, Petal will see play, but most likely will not be format warping, since the other best mana spell ever, Dark Ritual, sees hardly any play. 


dangerlinto's picture

And Lotus Petal is unleashed on PDC? It is a common...